Editor’s Note: This is part two of a four-part series on Agent Orange.
While in Vietnam, US veterans were told not to worry and were convinced that Agent Orange was harmless. Upon their return home, Vietnam veterans began to suspect their illness, or the cases where their wives miscarried or children were born with birth defects could be related to Agent Orange and the other toxic herbicides they were exposed to in Vietnam.
Veterans began filing health care disability claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1977 for conditions they believed were related to exposure to Agent Orange, or more specifically dioxin. However, their claims were denied unless they could demonstrate the condition began at what time they were on duty or within a year of their release. To qualify for compensation, veterans who were crew members on C-123 airplanes flown to Vietnam must be on or near Vietnam during the Vietnam era when herbicides were tested and stored outside of Vietnam Military bases in Thailand have served war or have been associated with Department of Defense projects to test, dispose of, or store herbicides in the United States.
As of April 1993, the Department of Veterans Affairs had only compensated 486 victims despite receiving disability claims from 39,419 soldiers exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam.
In a November 2004 poll by Zogby International of 987 people, 79% of respondents believed that the US chemical companies that made Agent Orange Defoliant should compensate US veterans affected by the toxic chemical used during the Vietnam War were. In addition, 51% said they supported compensation for the victims of the Vietnamese agent Orange
The United States waged secret wars in Laos and Cambodia, and dropped large quantities of Agent Orange in each of these countries. One estimate is that the US dropped 475,500 gallons of Agent Orange in Laos and 40,900 gallons in Cambodia. Because Laos and Cambodia were neutral during the Vietnam War, the US tried to keep its wars, including its bombing campaigns against these countries, a secret from the American people and has largely avoided accepting American veterans and CIA personnel stationed in Cambodia and Laos Compensate for those who had suffered permanent injuries from exposure to Agent Orange there.
Since at least 1978, several lawsuits have been filed against the companies that made Agent Orange, including Dow Chemical, Monsanto, and Diamond Shamrock. Attorney Hy Mayerson was an early pioneer of litigation with Agent Orange and worked with environmental attorney Victor Yannacone on the first wartime class action lawsuits against manufacturers of Agent Orange in 1980. At a meeting with Dr. Ronald A. Codario, one of the first civilian doctors to see affected patients, submitted more than 1,000 pages of information on Agent Orange and the Mayerson, impressed by the fact that a doctor would show so much interest in a Vietnam veteran Effects of dioxin on animals and people in Codario’s office the day after his first contact with the doctor. The corporate defendants tried to evade guilt by blaming the US government for everything.
In 1980, Mayerson, with Sgt. Charles E. Hartz as the lead client, filed the US agent Orange’s first class action lawsuit in Pennsylvania over injuries sustained by military personnel in Vietnam from exposure to toxic dioxins in defoliant. Attorney Mayerson co-drafted the brief confirming Agent Orange’s product liability lawsuit as a class action lawsuit, the largest ever filed at the time of filing. Hartz’s filing was one of the first in America and the first for an Agent Orange trial to keep the testimony in the trial, as it was clear that Hartz would no longer experience the trial because a brain tumor began to develop while he was a member of the Tiger Force, Special Forces and LRRPs in Vietnam. The company localized and also provided critical research to the veterans’ lead expert, Dr. Codario, including about 100 articles from toxicology journals spanning more than a decade, as well as data on where herbicides had been sprayed and the effects dioxin had on animals and humans, and every accident in factories producing herbicides or dioxin was one Chemical reaction contamination.
The chemical companies involved denied that there was any connection between Agent Orange and the veterans’ medical problems. On May 7, 1984, however, seven chemical companies settled the class action out of court just hours before the jury began selecting it. The companies agreed to pay $ 180 million in compensation if the veterans dropped all claims against them. A little more than 45% of the amount was paid by Monsanto alone. Many veterans who were the victims of Agent Orange’s exposure were outraged that the case had been settled instead of going to court, and felt they had been betrayed by the lawyers.
Fairness Hearings were held in five major American cities in which veterans and their families discussed their reactions to the settlement and condemned the actions of lawyers and courts. They demanded that the case be heard before a jury of their colleagues. Federal Judge Jack B. Weinstein denied the appeal, claiming the settlement was “fair and equitable”. By 1989, the veterans’ fears were confirmed when it was decided how the settlement money would be paid out. A fully disabled Vietnam veteran would receive a maximum of $ 12,000 over a 10 year period. By accepting the settlement payments, disabled veterans would no longer be eligible for many government benefits that provide far more financial support than the settlement, such as food stamps, public assistance, and state pensions. A widow of a Vietnam veteran who died from Agent Orange exposure would receive $ 3,700.
In 2004, Monsanto spokeswoman Jill Montgomery said Monsanto should not be held responsible at all for injuries or deaths caused by Agent Orange. He said, “We understand people who believe they have been injured and understand their concern about finding the cause, but reliable scientific evidence suggests that Agent Orange is not the cause of serious long-term health effects. “
In 1980, New Jersey established the New Jersey Agent Orange Commission, the first state commission created to study its effects. The Commission’s research project in collaboration with Rutgers University was called The Pointman Project. It was dissolved in 1996 by Governor Christine Todd Whitman.
In the first phase of the project, the commission’s researchers developed methods for determining small levels of dioxin in the blood. Previously, such values could only be found in adipose tissue. The project examined the levels of dioxin (TCDD) in the blood and adipose tissue of a small group of Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange and compared them with those of a matched control group. In the former group, higher values were found. The second phase of the project continued to study and compare dioxin levels in different groups of Vietnam veterans, including military personnel, marines and brownwater riverboat marine personnel.
Harold B. Wolford is President of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095. He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1973.