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House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment

from
The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin

Our Forgotten Responsibility:
What Can We Do To Help Victims of Agent Orange?

Thursday, May 15, 2008
10:00 AM - 1:00 PM
Room 2172
Rayburn House Office Building

Statement for the Hearing Record by
The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin

Hearing on May 15, 2008
OUR FORGOTTEN RESPONSIBILITY:
WHAT CAN WE DO FOR THE VICTIMS OF AGENT ORANGE

Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment
House Foreign Affairs Committee

May 1, 2008

Introduction:

The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/dioxin welcomes the opportunity to submit a statement for the hearing of the Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Our Forgotten Responsibility: What Can We Do for Victims of Agent Orange.  We thank the Chairman, The Honorable Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, for his leadership in holding this hearing and his dedication to the cause of justice for Agent Orange victims in Vietnam, the United States and globally!

VAVA – Speaking for Vietnam’s Agent Orange Victims:

The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange (“VAVA”) is the organization representing all three million Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange and other related chemical agents (for example, Agent Purple, Blue, White, Pink, Green, etc.)  Established in 2003, VAVA has chapters at the national, provincial, district and commune levels. At present there are VAVA chapters in 50 provinces and hundreds of districts and communes.  VAVA’s work includes, among other things. encouraging victims of Agent Orange in overcoming the difficulties of daily life, providing aid and services to victims, their families and their communities and raising public awareness.

VAVA is, first and foremost, the voice of the victims, representing them and providing expertise and advice on their behalf with the Vietnamese government and in international forums.  VAVA maintains relations with supporting groups in many countries.

Many VAVA leaders and members are victims of Agent Orange and suffer from a variety of illnesses and disabilities as a result of their contact with the deadly chemical Dioxin contained in Agent Orange. 

Many Vietnamese families have lost their loved ones. Many others have given birth to severely disabled babies whose lives are doomed from birth.  Yet, Vietnam’s Agent Orange victims live with dignity and hope.  They are doing everything possible to make their lives better and to contribute to their society.  Through VAVA, they are organizing for mutual assistance – helping each other to develop new and innovative ways of taking care of disabled children, developing income generation projects for families struggling under the burden of several sick and disabled members and raising funds for housing, training and education.

In partnership with VAVA, the Vietnamese government is providing monetary and social assistance to Agent Orange victims throughout the country and working to clean up a number of toxic hot spots where Dioxin has remained in the land and water.  The Vietnamese people are involved in helping Agent Orange victims through donations from individuals, organizations and businesses.  Thousands of students, veterans and workers are engaged in volunteer activities. From the provision of monthly financial aid to the construction of treatment and rehabilitation centers and environmental remediation, VAVA is leading in improving the lives of three generations of Agent Orange victims.

The Needs of Vietnam’s Agent Orange Victims

The suffering of Vietnam’s Agent Orange victims cannot be alleviated without much greater resources than the people and government of Vietnam can provide.  Agent Orange victims live in nearly every province in Vietnam.  They are veterans of the Peoples Army of Vietnam, the National Liberation Front and those forces served in alliance with the United States during the war.  They are civilians and, increasingly, they are children born after the end of the war. 

People who were exposed to dioxin laden Agent Orange endure many life threatening and chronic diseases and disabilities -- from cancers, reproductive disorders, immune deficiency, endocrine deficiency and nervous system damage.  Several generations of the children and grandchildren of those directly exposed suffer from developmental and physical disabilities including terrible birth defects.  

One of the saddest results of Agent Orange is the death of infants in utero, many with horrific malformations.  Numerous families cannot give birth to children or give birth to several children with serious birth defects.  Despite universal prenatal care, most of hospitals in Vietnam have not had sufficient effective equipments to test pregnant women for birth defects. Families, many of whom have two, three or even four members who are afflicted are the poorest in Vietnam.

Caring for severely disabled children prevents many parents from being able to work and many exhaust their savings looking for viable treatments.  As the first generation of those exposed to Agent Orange ages, children and grandchildren with crippling disabilities face a future without caregivers. These children will need lifetime treatment and assistance in the activities of daily living.

Many areas of Vietnam have centers for treatment, rehabilitation and housing of Agent Orange victims, but there are not enough facilities for the number of victims who need them.  They also lack sufficient medical and rehabilitation equipment and other resources.

In areas where Agent Orange was heavily sprayed or stored during the war by the U.S. military, contamination of the environments results in continuing exposure of civilians to Dioxin.  In a number of “hot spots” such as Da Nang, Bien Hoa and A Luoi, Dioxin remains in the lakes and the soil and continues to cause illnesses to the residents who eat foodstuffs thereof.

Even those far from our country are not immune from the ravages of Agent Orange exposure during the war.  Vietnamese Americans, many of whom have been in the U.S. decades, also suffer the effects of Agent Orange although their situation has received virtually no attention.

Justice for Vietnam’s Agent Orange victims

Because the effects of Agent Orange are a public health and environmental tragedy for the Vietnamese people, the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin is seeking justice for the millions of Agent Orange victims we represent. 

The American Public Health Association recognized the serious public health consequences of Agent Orange for Vietnam in a 2007 policy statement recommending that, “the US government and involved chemical companies provide resources for services for the disabled in areas where dioxin victims are concentrated; provide medical services and nursing services for those harmed by Agent Orange; and develop community support organizations, including health care and educational and chronic care services and medical equipment to care for American and Vietnamese people harmed; including additional services as they are identified.”

During the war, between 1961 and 1971, approximately 72 million liters of herbicides, including 49.3 million liters of Agent Orange containing more than 360 kg of Dioxin were sprayed multiple times over 5.5 million acres in the southern and central areas of Vietnam. 

Agent Orange was made by several U.S. chemical companies, including Dow Chemical and Monsanto and was sold to the United States government.  These companies sold Agent Orange which contained Dioxin as a by-product of the manufacturing process.  Despite knowing that the Dioxin content could be eliminated or drastically reduced by using better manufacturing methods, the companies put profit over human health by continuing to produce a product with elevated Dioxin levels.

U.S. military personnel who handled or sprayed Agent Orange have suffered from similar ailments and disabilities as Vietnamese victims.  As a result of a lawsuit against the U.S. chemical manufacturers, in 1984, U.S. veterans received a settlement of $180 million dollars.

Due to the efforts of U.S. veterans and their supporters, the U.S. Congress passed the Agent Orange Act of 1991, which awarded service connected disability benefits to Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange and suffering from certain medical conditions.  A U.S. Government Accounting Office report, published in 2005, estimated yearly payments to 160,000 veterans with the four most common illnesses related to Agent Orange exposure at approximately $1.52 billion in disability compensation and $56 million in medical care.

Other governments -- New Zealand, England and Australia -- have also awarded compensation to their veterans who were similarly exposed.  In 2006, a South Korean Court ordered Dow Chemical and Monsanto and other companies, to pay more than 63 million dollars to 6,795 Korean Agent Orange victims and their relatives. Recently, the Canadian government, which sprayed Agent Orange in Gagetown, Canada, has approved a compensation package of 26 million dollars for the 4,500 people affected.

The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin shares the pain of Agent Orange victims in the U.S. and in other countries.  VAVA wholeheartedly supports justice and compensation for ALL victims of Agent Orange!

Vietnamese Agent Orange victims have been the subject of the most intensive spraying of Agent Orange in the world.  VAVA believes that the corporations, that manufactured the Agent Orange without regard to the health consequences, and the U.S. government, which used it, are responsible for helping to alleviate the tragic effects of this toxic chemical upon the land and people of Vietnam. 

We are thankful for the assistance and aid given by U.S. veterans groups and humanitarian organizations!  Many veterans have built and equipped clinics and rehabilitation centers, donated wheelchairs, volunteered their time and contributed funds.  These kind hearted American people have taken the lead in extending a hand of friendship to Vietnamese victims.
However, the U.S. chemical manufacturers have yet to follow the lead of the American people.

They have denied any responsibility for their toxic product.  VAVA brought suit in federal court against these companies under U.S. and international law.  The case was dismissed by the Court of Appeals and a petition for hearing en banc is currently pending in this Court of Appeals.

Last year, for the first time, the United States Congress appropriated $3 million, “for environmental remediation of dioxin storage sites and to support health programs in communities near those sites.”  This is a positive step in healing the wounds of war for Agent Orange victims. 

Vietnamese Agent Orange victims living near these “hot spots” are eagerly awaiting for the truly significant contributions from the U.S side to make a real difference in their lives.  VAVA hopes that the funds will be allocated according to the needs of the victims, in a direct and effective manner, and will be happy to assist in coordination.

Conclusion

The needs of Vietnam’s Agent Orange victims are great and time is running out.  Fifty years since Agent Orange was sprayed over the people and land of Vietnam this human tragedy continues unabated.  Those who survive seek redress for the anguish that is befalling several generations of their offspring.  They hope that the forgotten responsibility will now be remembered and acted upon!

The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin earnestly hopes that the United States Congress and government will continue to provide assistance to Vietnam’s more than three million Agent Orange victims. We believe that providing such assistance as will enable our members to significantly improve their lives is an important part of the improving relations between our two countries. We believe that helping the victims and remediating the environmental effects of Agent Orange is in accordance with the humanitarian tradition of the American people.

VAVA looks forward to working with this Committee and with all of the members of Congress to address this issue in the future.
__________
The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA)
Rooms 205-208, B17, Lương Đình Của Street, Đống Đa District, Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: +84 4 574 5657 / 59 — Fax: +84 4 574 5658
Email: hnncddcvn@fpt.vn — Website: www.vava.org.vn

Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign | info@vn-agentorange.org | P.O. Box 303, Prince Street, New York, NY 10012-0006