Good morning, Mr. Chairman, and Members of this distinguished Subcommittee,
on behalf of VVA National President John Rowan and all of our officers
and members we thank you for the opportunity for Vietnam Veterans
of America (VVA) to appear here today to share our views on the issue “Forgotten
Responsibility: What Can We Do To Help Victims of Agent Orange. I
ask that you enter our full statement in the record, and I will briefly
summarize the most important points of our statement.
Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) took our first mission back to
Vietnam after the war in December of 1981. That mission was led by
our then President, and founder, Robert O. “Bobby” Muller.
The substance was two fold: first, to start the process of securing
cooperation of the Vietnamese government in achieving the fullest
possible accounting of our POW/MIA from the Vietnam ware (or “the
American war” as the Vietnamese called it); and, second, to
move toward research in Vietnam as the natural laboratory for research
into the epidemiological impact of Agent Orange and the other toxins
used or inadvertently deposited in Vietnam during our presence there.
VVA has returned to Vietnam many times since, always focusing on
these two core missions. Since the early 1990s, VVA has had the “Veterans’ Initiative” (VI)
of collecting information about graves of North Vietnamese Army casualties
after battles with our forces that are contributed by American veterans
who fought in Vietnam, including information, artifacts, etc. that
VVA has transmitted to the Veterans Association of Vietnam. This
veteran to veteran project has, according to the Vietnamese, contributed
to the continued high level of cooperation that the Vietnamese have
accorded the J-PAC forces searching for American remains in an effort
to locate remains of missing American service members, repatriate
them, and help bring closure to the families that have waited so
long for final word on the fate of their loved one. Additionally,
the Vietnamese have used the information imparted to continue their
process of locating the remains of their MIA, and bringing closure
to the Vietnamese families in a similar fashion. Our most recent
VI mission to Vietnam was just last October.
As to Agent Orange, VVA continues to be the leader
among American veterans groups in pressing for more research and
action regarding the deleterious and adverse health effects of Agent
Orange and other herbicides and toxins to which we, and Vietnamese
forces and population were exposed to during the war Much of the
residue of these toxins remains in Vietnam, and continues to expose
the population to these dangerous chemicals. The common perception
is that it is an “Agent
Orange” problem, but that is only one of the herbicides used
in Vietnam, and only accounts for about 48% or 49% of the aerial
There is still debate from a few individuals about whether Agent
Orange was and is harmful human beings. Dr. Alvin Young continues
to say, as he put it in testimony to the panel of scientists convened
by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies of Sciences
(NAS) last year: “The bad news is that Agent Orange was so
widely dispersed by aerial spraying, ground vehicles, and by hand
that virtually all who served there would have come in contact with
it, but the good new is that most of it is not harmful.” Dr.
Young’s contention is that only the Agent Orange that contains
2, 4, 5T was harmful, and that only very limited amounts were used
during the early years of the spraying. VVA has reason to doubt that
dioxin is good for you, and has told that to Dr. Young repeatedly.
It appears that actually the highest concentration of 2, 4 D and
2, 4, 5 T was actually contained in Agent Pink, which was used extensively
and primarily along roads and perimeters.
These were a total of at least 15 different agents used at one time
or another during our military presence in Vietnam for defoliation
and (apparently) for crop destruction to deny food to enemy forces
during the war. A number of these agents were used only in very limited
tests for possible effectiveness, and therefore only minute amounts
of these toxins were left behind. However, Agent Blue, Agent White,
and Agent Purple were used extensively, particularly for destruction
of rice crops, and for defoliation along roads. The basic ingredient
of Agent Blue is commonly known as salt of arsenic. You do not have
to be a chemist to understand that arsenic is not healthy for humans
and other living things.
Because of the hard work of advocates outside of the of the Congress,
as well as advocates in the Congress over the last twenty five years,
such as Congressman Lane Evans of Illinois as well as Senator Tom
Daschle, Senator John Kerry, Senator Tom Harkin, and Senator Hagel
and others, a number maladies suffered in disproportionate numbers
by American veterans of Vietnam have been recognized as being service
connected presumptive. What this means is that if a veteran has this
malady, and can prove that he or she served on the ground in Vietnam
(or in some cases elsewhere in Southeast Asia or the DMZ in Korea
or in a few spots in the continental United States) then it is automatically
adjudicated by the Veterans Benefits Administration of the Department
of Veterans Affairs (VA) as being a result of the exposure in military
service, entitling the veteran to compensation and health care.
VVA has continued to press for additional research into the effects
of the toxic environment in which we lived and fought during our
time in the military in Vietnam. One key aspect of that was seeking
o get research going in Vietnam, as it is still the “natural
laboratory” where all of this actually took place, and when
we left the toxins were left behind.
Really from the 1980s forward, and intensively from about 1995 until
2001 VVA pushed hard to secure an agreement, and the funds, to bring
about scientific research in Vietnam
about these toxins. Thanks in particular to the Senators noted above,
and Congressman Lane Evans, the funds were appropriated for three
years in a row to the National Institute for Environmental Health
Sciences (NIEHS) specifically for this purpose, but remained unused.
Some of the delay was due to recalcitrance on the part of NIEHS and
some due to the reluctance of the Vietnamese to go down this road.
Frankly, the Vietnamese position makes sense to a layman in that
they believed that the adverse effects of the toxins on the environment
and on human health was pretty much self evident, and that the U.S.
Government should accept responsibility for this and move to transfer
funds and technical assistance to the Vietnamese to provide medical
care and compensation to their citizens, and resources to clean up
the toxins still in their environment.
In 2001 the former National President of Vietnam Veterans of America,
Thomas H. Corey, a wheelchair bound former infantryman with the 1st
CAV who was shot through the chest in what we still call the Ashau
valley during the war, led a delegation to Vietnam where a key official
of Vietnam finally agreed to host a conference to move toward an
agreement to conduct the research. For three years the NIEHS had
blamed the Vietnamese for lack of progress in actually utilizing
the funds for the purpose intended by the Congress. Once the
Vietnamese said yes, then NIEHS came up with all kinds of “reasons” and
excuses as to why they could not move ahead.
Finally in the fall of 2001, the NIEHS agreed to move forward, and
the first ever International Conference on Agent Orange was held
in Hanoi in late February/early March of 2002. Scientists, physicians,
and officials from more than 90 countries attended, and many presented
scientific papers, served on panels, or presented scientific “posters.” At
the end of that Conference, the United States government and the
government of Vietnam signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to move
forward with a joint scientific effort. The environmental survey
was to be jointly executed, with the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) having the lead on the American side. The NIEHS had the lead
on the American side to move forward with epidemiological studies
of the population in Vietnam that was exposed.
The EPA did its job pretty well, and significant progress was being
made on the ecological survey for the first three years, although
not nearly as quickly as VVA believed possible. The NIEHS never did
get a specific epidemiological study in place.
By the mid to late 2005 it was clear that there was an impasse on
the epidemiological studies that was affecting the whole endeavor,
and that the situation was unlikely to be resolved at any time in
the foreseeable future. In the spring of 2006, the Ford Foundation
stepped forward and started providing funds for a survey of the “hot
spots” with a view toward cleaning up those worst spaces, at
least the pollution from dioxin and Agent Orange. Others at this
hearing will I am sure provide a more complete picture what has been
accomplished there as a result of the Ford Foundation’s leadership
in stepping into this deadlocked situation.
As you know, President Bush visited Vietnam in late 2006, and Vietnam
was able, with the assistance of the United States, to achieve several
major economic and trade goals that will (and already has) result
in much investment in infrastructure, more free flow of goods from
Vietnam to international markets, and a significant growth in the
standard of living of the Vietnamese people. Despite recent impressive
progress Vietnam still remains as one of the poorest countries in
the world in regard to per capita income, despite the industriousness
and creativity of their people.
So why does VVA have stake in what happens now? By forgoing the
epidemiological studies in Vietnam, the research that we believe
would have been immediately applicable to American veterans and their
families is not going to take place. The Vietnamese are getting largely
what they wanted, and doing the best by their people in securing
capital, expanding scientific and industrial capacity, and acquiring
the resources to provide more health care to their people. They will
also get remediation of their worst environmental “hot spots” at
least for dioxin, if the State Department ever gets the funds flowing.
Who loses are American veterans who do not get the benefit for studies
that would be directly applicable to American veterans, particularly
as to birth defects in not only our children for our grandchildren
and great-grandchildren. It strains credulity that this is all by
There is currently not a single study regarding the adverse effects
of Agent Orange being funded by any of the National Institutes of
Health, nor by the Defense Department, nor by VA nor by the EPA.
Nor has the VA commented on the latest findings from the IOM pursuant
to the Agent Orange Act of 1991, which was due months ago. Even the
$1.5 million for the Medical Follow-up Agency of the IOM to care
for the data from the now defunct Air Force “Ranch Hand Study” and
to make it available to the scientific community mysteriously disappeared
from the latest VA budget.
American veterans still do not have the answers we need. While we
wish the Vietnamese people all the best with their problems due to
Agent Orange, it is a fact that American veterans of Vietnam, and
our families, are being cast aside by the way things have developed
in the past seven or so years, and particularly so since early 2006.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide our brief remarks. I will
be happy to answer any questions.
RICHARD “Rick” WEIDMAN
Richard F. “Rick” Weidman serves as Director of Government
Relations on the National Staff of Vietnam Veterans of America. As
such, he is the primary spokesperson for VVA in Washington. He served
as a 1-A-O Army Medical Corpsman during the Vietnam War, including
service with Company C, 23rd Med, and AMERICAL Division, located
in I Corps of Vietnam in 1969.
Mr. Weidman was part of the staff of VVA from 1979 to 1987, serving
variously as Membership Service Director, Agency Liaison, and Director
of Government Relations. He left VVA to serve in the Administration
of Governor Mario M. Cuomo (NY) as statewide director of veterans’ employment & training
(State Veterans Programs Administrator) for the New York State Department
He has served as Consultant on Legislative Affairs to the National
Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV), and served at various times
on the VA Read adjustment Advisory Committee, the Secretary of Labor’s
Advisory Committee on Veterans Employment & Training, the President’s
Committee on Employment of Persons with Disabilities - Subcommittee
on Disabled Veterans, Advisory Committee on veterans’ entrepreneurship
at the Small Business Administration, and numerous other advocacy
posts in veteran affairs.
Mr. Weidman was an instructor and administrator at Johnson State
College (Vermont) in the 1970s, where he was also active in community
and veterans affairs. He attended Colgate University (B.A., (1967),
and did graduate study at the University of Vermont.
He is married and has four children.
VETERANS OF AMERICA
national organization Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is a non-profit
veterans' membership organization registered as a 501(c) (19) with
the Internal Revenue Service. VVA is also appropriately registered
with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives
in compliance with the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995.
is not currently in receipt of any federal grant or contract, other
than the routine allocation of office space and associated resources
in VA Regional Offices for outreach and direct services through its
Veterans Benefits Program (Service Representatives). This is
also true of the previous two fiscal years.
For Further Information, Contact:
of Government Relations
Veterans of America.
585-4000 extension 127