Media Blackout on Agent Orange: Coverage Ignores Effects on Vietnamese Victims

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by David Lindorff:
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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 Orange – caused 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.)

Read
the rest of the article

March
10, 2010

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