By Dave Lindorff
FromExtra!, January 2010
In mid-October, hundreds of thousands of Vietnam-era veterans got some good if grim news: The Veterans Administration announced it was adding three more diseases to the 11 others it automatically presumes to have been caused by exposure to Agent Orange, the dioxin-laced herbicide spread by the U.S. military across much of South Vietnam to deny crops and cover to North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters during the war.
Newspapers and radio and TV news programs across America ran stories announcing that veterans of the jungle war who now suffer or may eventually suffer from Parkinson's Disease, ischemic heart disease or a type of cancer called hairy-cell leukemia will henceforth automatically be offered free medical care by the VA if they'd spent at least one day in uniform on the ground in Vietnam.
The connection of these diseases to Agent Orange exposure had first been announced in July by a task force of the national Institute of Medicine. But the medical researchers made an obvious point that has been almost universally ignored in the media coverage of this story: As bad as the impact of Agent Orange was on American troops, it was worse for those millions on whom the chemical was directly dumped--the Vietnamese people.
The Institute of Medicine report notes at several points that the Vietnamese were exposed in far larger numbers and more extensively than were most American troops, and adds that when it comes to health impacts of Agent Orange, "The Vietnamese are an understudied population."
Indeed. A total of 20 million gallons of dioxin-containing herbicide was sprayed by U.S. aircraft on at least 10 percent of what was once South Vietnam--over 3.6 million acres, much of it populated, even heavily populated. Cropland was deliberately targeted, and water bodies used for drinking and irrigation were contaminated. As the report clinically puts it, "Although there are likely to be serious logistical challenges, the many Vietnamese people who had substantial exposure constitute a potentially informative study sample."
When New York Times military affairs reporter James Dao was asked why his October 13 article about the VA's decision to add three new major illnesses to the list of Agent Orangecaused problems among veterans didn't mention the obvious fact that these illnesses would also be afflicting many more Vietnamese, the reporter replied, "My beat is veterans," adding that he "only" had 800 words to work with. (That's 50 words longer than this piece.)...
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