Have Agent Orange studies ignored Vietnamese vets in the U.S.?

Agent OrangeIn a first-person article appearing on the New California Media website, health reporter Ngoc Nguyen highlights the lack of studies regarding the health effects Agent Orange/dioxin exposure has had on Vietnamese soldiers who immigrated to the United States following the Vietnam War.

American forces sprayed 19 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides during the Vietnam War between 1961 and 1971, mostly in South Vietnam, to deny North Vietnamese soldiers cover in the country’s dense forests and jungles. Agent Orange was contaminated with dioxin, a highly toxic chemical that is persistent in human tissues and the environment.

Nguyen’s father, a former naval officer in the South Vietnamese Army, developed liver cancer a few years ago. The diagnosis followed decades of struggle with Hepatitis C, a viral infection he contracted through a blood transfusion during the war. A liver transplant saved his life.

Numerous studies and research on American veterans has led to the The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences linking Agent Orange/dioxin exposure to a slew of health conditions, including prostate, lung and other cancers, Parkinson’s disease and leukemia, and birth defects in the children of veterans, such as spina bifida.

However, this stands “in stark contrast to what little is known about the health effects of dioxin in Vietnamese living in the United States – whether they were born here or are former residents of South Vietnam,” writes Nguyen.

According to a study published in the journal Nature by Columbia University professor emeritus Jeanne Stellman:

…as many as 4.8 million Vietnamese civilians were exposed to the chemicals during the war. The collapse of the government of South Vietnam brought an exodus of Vietnamese to the United States, with more than 125,000 refugees resettling here after 1975. The country’s Vietnamese population now stands at more than 1.6 million, according to the last census count.

According to Arnold Schecter, a professor of environmental sciences at the Univ. of Texas School of Public Health in Dallas and a leading researcher on dioxin exposure in the Vietnamese American community, no one has conducted measures of dioxin exposure levels in the population.

Complicating matters is the fact that most Vietnamese immigrants in the United States are largely from South Vietnam, which fell to the communists in 1975. Nguyen notes:

As such, many here do not want to do or say anything that gives credence to Hanoi’s claims about the health effects of Agent Orange, part of a massive campaign to win compensation for victims of the defoliant. [A lawsuit brought by Vietnam against the chemical makers in federal court in New York was dismissed in 2005, and subsequent appeals have failed.]

Yet the lack of health studies for this group comes at a time when the symptoms of wartime exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin could be surfacing.

Read Ngoc Nguyen’s “Agent Orange Studies Overlook Vietnamese Americans.”

RELATED: The Forgotten Ones: Speaking Out After Decades of Silence (audio/K. Oanh Ha)

About Steven Chin

Steven Chin is the web editor for the Vietnam Reporting Project and principal of MKmedia, a San Francisco Bay Area consulting firm that provides Web development, content and social media strategies to companies and nonprofit organizations.

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