A Toxic Legacy In Vietnam

September 23, 2008


17 September 2008

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The United States and Vietnam continue to expand their cooperation to address Agent Orange and its toxic contaminant dioxin, with a joint advisory committee meeting last week in Hanoi.

The working session, the third in as many years, brought American and Vietnamese scientists together to review ongoing U.S.-Vietnam Agent Orange efforts as well as to discuss additional environmental remediation and health projects to be recommended to policy makers. Plans were announced for use of three million dollars provided by the U.S. Congress for programs to deal with Agent Orange, a defoliant used in some parts of the country during the Vietnam war.

Agent Orange has long been a sensitive issue for both nations. In recent years, however, discussion has moved beyond the finger pointing of old adversaries toward the constructive cooperation of international partners. While more scientific research must be done to determine the lasting impact of Agent Orange on Vietnam, the U.S. acknowledges Vietnam’s concerns and is acting to help address them. The science-based, joint-government approach of the recent meetings illustrates how Vietnam and the United States are working closely together to move forward on this issue.

“Everyone today understands the importance of this issue to U.S.-Vietnam relations and to the Vietnamese people,” said U.S. Ambassador Michael Michalak.

Overall, the U.S. has spent more than forty million dollars to help Vietnamese with disabilities, regardless of cause. Some of the money allocated by Congress for Agent Orange activities will help people with disabilities in Danang, the site of a former U.S. airbase where the defoliant was stored and prepared for aerial use. The U.S. is also looking into cleanup activities of so-called dioxin “hot spots” and aims to join with other donors to best coordinate efforts.

Looking forward, the U.S. will continue to focus on supporting Vietnamese efforts to secure a safe environment and assisting Vietnamese living with disabilities, regardless of their cause.

Art for Agent Orange victims

September 23, 2008

Debra Jeanne Kraus

An American woman has dedicated her life to fighting for justice for victims of Agent Orange. She spoke to Thanh Nien Daily during her second visit to Vietnam with the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Fund.

Agent Orange campaigner Debra Jeanne Kraus has temporarily suspended her activism because she is losing another family member.

The 54-year-old Kraus lost her Vietnam veteran husband to Agent Orange-related lung cancer 12 years ago. Now she is losing her 88-year-old mother to heart failure.

Kraus intends to resume her life’s work soon, including completing an essay she intended to enter into a competition run by a Vietnamese newspaper to support the ongoing lawsuit against the American manufacturers of toxic herbicides used in the Vietnam War.

The Californian has already created an installation art project called Fiat Lux (Let There be Light) to raise awareness of the deadly effects of Agent Orange.

“[This] project artwork will end when I’m no longer able to work,” she says.

Kraus’s installation, which includes paintings, photos, sculptures, ceramics, videos and performance pieces, has been exhibited twice in the U.S and presented to an international conference on Agent Orange/dioxin victims in Hanoi in 2006.

Fiat Lux is brutal in its criticism of American use of toxic herbicides at the time of deployment, the US cared only about winning the war, not the toxicity of the herbicides it used.

After illnesses and birth defects were first detected by those who designed the herbicides, it took a long time for the American government to ban its use.

And now, four decades later, the US government is still denying a link between Agent Orange and the birth defects and other illnesses many Vietnamese and Vietnam War veterans still suffer.

Between 1961 and 1971, US troops sprayed about 80 million liters of defoliants, including Agent Orange, on Vietnamese forests to deprive southern Vietnamese guerillas of their cover and crops.

As many as 4.8 million Vietnamese were exposed to dioxin, the carcinogenic chemical found in Agent Orange and around 3 million of them have suffered serious health problems, according to Vietnam Association of Agent Orange/dioxin victims (VAVA).

In 2004, VAVA filed a lawsuit on behalf of Vietnamese victims against 37 American chemical companies that produced toxic chemicals used during the war.

A US court dismissed the suit on the ground that these chemicals weren’t banned at the time. Last year, VAVA appealed and was again dismissed. It plans to appeal to the US Supreme Court next month.

Also last year, the American Congress set aside US$3 million for dioxin cleanup throughout Vietnam, especially in Agent Orange “hotspots” such as Da Nang City and Bien Hoa Town, Dong Nai Province. Inspired by the international pop art movement of the 1960s, Kraus incorporated even the most commonplace objects into her art to help convey her message.

In Living Without, a piece showing several body organs destroyed by Agent Orange, the artist used her husband’s X-ray images.

The letters and photos he sent home during his six-month tour in Vietnam add a realistic touch to another work, Homecoming, which reproduces Vietnam’s defoliated and burned forests.

Kraus says she started her project out of “anger and resentment” in 1998, two years after her husband died.

On the day he died, May 28, 1996, former US President Bill Clinton and the Department of Veterans Affairs included adenocarcinoma of the lung, the secondary cancer that caused her husband’s death, in its list of Agent Orange-related diseases.

Though she was later compensated with a monthly allowance and an educational stipend, the compensation came too little too late.

“The government didn’t admit their guilt for poisoning him and they didn’t apologize,” she says.

Nor would his name, Peter Charles Kraus, ever be engraved on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., that honors only Vietnam War veterans who were killed in action.

So, “childless, heavily indebted and widowed from a war that had ended decades earlier,” Kraus went back to school to find “answers.”

But what she found was more questions about the American government’s use of Agent Orange. She also found something far more important: art.

“Its visual language speaks to the soul,” she says. “That’s where the change in our governments must occur.”

Her first two exhibitions generated “overwhelming” responses. The first Fiat Lux show was held at the University of California, Berkeley, shortly after the American invasion on Iraq in 2003 and the second at Los Angeles Valley College during the presidential election in 2004.

Kraus received many notes from audience members saying things like “thank you,” to “I miss my friend who’s currently serving in Iraq,” to deeply personal questions about whether they should have children.

“They were in tears. They were physically moved. They wrote papers,” Kraus said.

Fiat Lux is in storage now, ready to be shown again once Kraus resumes her campaigning.

Kraus plans to add new pieces to the project, which she calls “an artistic dialogue” about Agent Orange.

Those new works – several paintings about the freedom and peace Vietnam is now experiencing and a project about the global food chain – reflect her widened interest.

After visiting Vietnam three times – twice with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and once to attend the conference in Hanoi – Kraus has seen a country forging ahead despite lingering pain from the past.

The fight for justice for those affected by Agent Orange needs to be fought globally, says Kraus, who uses the plural when talking about “government.”

She said the fight extends beyond the American government’s unscrupulous use of toxic herbicides to win a war. It also includes the extensive testing and use of these chemicals by several governments, including the US and New Zealand, and the other toxic chemicals that have been introduced to the global food chain.

For Kraus, of the many painful legacies of the Vietnam War, helping Agent Orange/Dioxin victims and cleaning up contaminated soil and water should be the top priority of American and Vietnamese governments.

“Yes, [removing] unexploded ordnance is important because agriculture is at stake. Children are at stake, families are at stake, but the level of public Agent Orange/Dioxin exposure is a much more important issue at this time. It’s been 40-plus years.”

Kraus is part of the NGO Agent Orange Working Group (AOWG) which coordinates activities to clean up dioxin-contaminated areas in Vietnam.

At present, this organization is channeling funds from the U.S government and other sources to support agencies such as United Nations Development Program and the Ford Foundation to carry out remediation work throughout the country.

Fellow Agent Orange activist Vern Weitzel, who manages AOWG’s email list, heard Kraus’ speech to an international conference in Hanoi two years ago.

“I was very impressed,” he said. “But clearly, I was not the only person in the meeting to empathize with this lady from California whose values and emotions are like those in Vietnam who have suffered loss.”

Weitzel, a former meteorologist for the US army during the war, said when it comes to Agent Orange, most NGOs’ approach is to help disabled people regardless of the causes of their disabilities.

Kraus says the US National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine is reluctant to admit many cancers and illnesses, including birth defects, are connected to the dioxin in Agent Orange because so many other defoliants were used during the war.

Kraus believes governments worldwide do not push hard enough for scientific research that would explain what is going on.

“It’s all about money,” she says. Yet, Kraus has gone through enough to know that ultimately, “understanding and forgiveness,” rather than acrimonious criticism, is the answer.

“[So] much has changed since the war,” says her friend, photographer Justin Mott, who saw many Vietnam War veterans show up to support the VAVA lawsuit in a public conference in San Francisco last year.

So it’s compassion that Kraus wants. “It will take compassionate presidents from all countries to move [research] forward for the answers.”

“From the Earth to the Moon and Back,” a piece in Debra Jeanne Kraus’s Fiat Lux project. This work positions the moon equal in size to the earth, to condemn the American government for spending billions of dollar on space mission yet choosing not to fund research on dioxin’s effects on human health in the 1960s.

09:13′ 09/09/2008 (GMT+7)

VietNamNet Bridge – Activities to show support for Vietnamese children and Agent Orange (AO)/Dioxin victims were held during the 12th “Day of Solidarity” in the German capital of Berlin last weekend.

As many as 8,000 Euros were donated on the occasion.

Among others, the Solidarity Service International (SODI) and the Help Children in Vietnam organisation showed pictures about Vietnamese AO victims. SODI also introduced projects relating to mine clearance and resettlement in Vietnam.

As many as 8,000 Euros were donated on the occasion. The money will be used to buy equipment for a primary school in Da Nang Province and to support the Thuy An Rehabilitation Centre in Ba Vi District (Hanoi) where more than 100 AO heavily-affected children are given with care.

SODI opened an online campaign on its website to collect 100,000 signatures to support Vietnamese AO victims’ fight for justice. SODI also called on 37 US chemical companies that supplied AO toxin to the US armed forces during the Vietnam-American War to admit their responsibility and compensate the victims.

The “Day of Solidarity,” initiated in the time of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), became an annual event in 1996 with the aim of raising funds to support development projects in Africa, Asia and the Latin America.

This year’s event, which was held in the Alexanderplatz Square, drew the participation of 31 publishers and newspaper offices, 19 associations for solidarity, three union organisations and some 10,000 visitors.

(Source: VNA)

17:54′ 12/09/2008 (GMT+7)

Nguyen Van Quy (on the wheelchair) on the way to the New York Court of Appeals on June 18, 2007, three weeks before he died.

VietNamNet Bridge – Two Vietnamese Agent Orange victims, Dang Hong Nhut and Tran Thi Hoan, will go to the US from September 27 to October 31 to talk about the consequences of AO/dioxin in Vietnam.

According to Mai The Chinh, an official of the Association of Vietnamese AO/Dioxin Victims, Dang Hong Nhut, 67, from the southern province of Dong Nai, took part in the war of resistance against the US troops and was infected with AO.

Tran Thi Hoan, 22, is missing two limbs as a result of congenital malformation consequent of AO. Hoan is a student at HCM City University.

The two women will go to the US at the invitation of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign (VAORRC). In 2005 and 2007, Vietnamese AO victims went to the US three times to campaign for the US public’s support for Vietnamese victims in their lawsuit against US chemical companies.

The latest trip to the US by Vietnamese AO victims took place in June 2007. They took part in an oral argument at the US Court of Appeals. Nearly one month after that, two victims, Nguyen Van Quy and Nguyen Thi Hong, died because of dioxin.

Chinh said the Association of Vietnamese AO/Dioxin Victims and lawyers are preparing an appeal to lodge to the US Supreme Court. On February 22, the US Court of Appeals rejected the Vietnamese AO/Dioxin victims’ petition against US chemical companies which produced AO/dioxin used during the Vietnam War. The appeal will be sent to the US Supreme Court between now and early October.

Vietnam currently has around 3 million AO/dioxin victims.

Germans walk for Vietnamese A/O victims
11:21′ 25/06/2008 (GMT+7)

VietNamNet Bridge – Former Vice President Truong My Hoa joined hundreds of Vietnamese and Germans in a charity walk in Germany’s Bochum City to raise fund for Vietnamese Agent Orange victims.

Hoa, now President of the Sponsorship Council, joined the June 22 event while leading a delegation of the Community Mobilising and Supporting Fund on a working visit to Germany from June 20-22.

Hoa said the annual event was of great significance for Vietnamese A/O victims and that she hoped such a walk would be scaled up in both the turn-out and the number of involved localities in Germany.

The “Parade for Vietnam” this year was the second of its kind so far in Bochum held by the Association in Support of Vietnamese Women and Youths and the Organisation for Communities in Bochum.

On June 21, Hoa joined in a gathering with Vietnamese youth who are studying in Germany. Also present at the event was Vu Trong Kim, member of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee and Vice President-cum-Secretary General of the Vietnam Fatherland Front Central Committee.

At the event, Hoa encouraged students to study hard and draw experience from an economy of developed science and technology in service of national construction back home.

On June 20, the delegation had a working session with the Vietnamese General Consulate in Frankfurt on community work, paid a courtesy visit to the Mayor of the Bad Rappenau City of Baden-Wuerttemberg State and met with overseas Vietnamese.

(Source: VNA)

“The Last Ghost of War,” a new independent film about long-term health damages from Agent Orange and dioxins, will have its first showing in the Appalachian region Friday evening at South Charleston’s LaBelle Theater.

The 57-minute film interviews American veterans from the Vietnam War, Vietnamese people whose towns were sprayed with Agent Orange in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as local workers who produced the chemicals at Monsanto’s Nitro plant, which is now closed.

Janet Gardner, the film’s producer, met and photographed children in Vietnam who suffer missing limbs, enlarged heads and bulging eyes.

The Rev. Jim Lewis said West Virginia Patriots for Peace is sponsoring the local showing.

“The film depicts wars and the costs of war – the Vietnam War and all wars,” said Lewis, who was rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Charleston between 1974 and 1982.

“When I was at St. John’s, veterans came to me and asked me if they could have space for an office for a chapter of Vietnam Veterans for America. We gave them the space and they provided counseling for Vietnam veterans. They also worked on the Agent Orange problem.

“I am always interested in the local connections between war and the people at home – people who fight the war and people who produce the materials to fight the war. People come home battered and bruised and, in this case, poisoned by dioxin,” Lewis said.

“The Last Ghost of War” shows Vietnamese children who had been born with deformities after their parents were exposed to the toxic herbicide used to defoliate jungles that hid the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam and the North Vietnamese Army.

The film also focuses on people such as Michael and Maureen Ryan, a Long Island couple whose daughter, Kerry, suffered 22 birth defects after her father was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam.

Gardner and Susan Hammond from the War Legacies Project will both be in South Charleston to discuss the film.

Ollin McClanahan, a retired Monsanto worker interviewed for the film, said on Wednesday, “When we worked at Monsanto, we did not know anything about dioxin or Agent Orange.

“The first I ever heard of Agent Orange was in 1972, when Monsanto closed the plant down, dug up everything around it and threw everything away.”

Hammond has been showing the film primarily on college campuses.

“Some of the Nitro workers share a similar connection to Agent Orange through illnesses they have as a result of exposure to Agent Orange,” she said.

“Decisions that are made in Washington to go to war have long-term consequences both in foreign countries and in communities that feed the war machine by making products or by sending their own youth to war.”

Hammond said she frequently travels to Vietnam to help provide medical care for “people still dealing with the consequences of war.”

“Vietnamese families with severely disabled children are falling through the cracks as Vietnam is rapidly changing and developing. Those who are disabled and ill tend to get left behind,” she said.

Lewis will chair a panel and audience discussion after the film is shown.

John Skaggs, a Charleston lawyer who represents workers suing Monsanto for damages to their health, also will attend Friday’s screening.

“This material is very persistent. It doesn’t go away. Two and a half times as many Agent Orange chemicals as were sprayed in Vietnam stayed in the environment around the Nitro plant, and they did not all disappear down the sewer.”

Gardner also has produced other films, including “Precious Cargo,” about 2,000 children airlifted out of Vietnam at the end of the war in 1975, and “Dancing Through Death,” about a Cambodian dancer who grew up under the Khmer Rouge.

The film will be shown at 7 p.m. at the LaBelle Theater, located at 311 D St. in South Charleston. The program is open to the public, and there is no admission charge.

To contact staff writer Paul J. Nyden, use e-mail or call 348-5164.

Exhibition on Vietnamese AO victims in Italy

 

Renowned Italian photographer Ciro Cortelessa will provide Italian people with an insight into consequences of Agent Orange (AO)/Dioxin through a photo exhibition on Vietnamese AO victims slated for February 8 in the boot-shaped peninsula.

On display at the exhibition, to be held in Spezia city and Liguria region, will be black-and-white photos taken by Cortelessa during his recent tour places in Vietnam which were sprayed with the toxic Agent Orange by US soldiers during the war.

In an article featuring the exhibition, the Italian ‘La Citta della Spezia’ Daily gave readers a clear picture about AO impacts on Vietnamese people.

The newspaper stated that “20,000 villages and between 2 and 5 million Vietnamese people were seriously affected by AO/dioxin in terms of economy, health and culture. In central Quang Tri province alone, more than 600,000 residents suffered from AO-caused diseases.”

In January, an exhibition showcasing 100 black-and-white photos on Vietnamese AO victims opened in Milan, Italy. The photos were taken by photographer Livio Senigalliesis during his visit to Vietnam last year. (VNA)

Vietnam JUMP brings int’l students to Vietnamese AO victims
16:38′ 17/10/2007 (GMT+7)

 

VietNamNet Bridge – “Join to Understand, Memorise and Pave the way” is the slogan of a project named Vietnam JUMP of Vietnamese students at the National University of Singapore, which aims to bring international friends to Vietnam to live with Agent Orange victims.

 

More than 50 foreign students at the National University of Singapore have registered to participate in a two-week trip to the Friendship Village in the northern province of Ha Tay in Vietnam, where children affected by AO live, to learn more about the consequences of the war that American troops left in Vietnam.

 

Tuan Minh, 20, Chairman of the Vietnamese Student’s Sub-committee at the National University of Singapore, said: “Our association has organised many voluntary activities in Vietnam. We want to gather international friends to do something in our country.”

 

Vietnam JUMP is the result.

 

Phuong Thuy, 19, who has been in Singapore for just three months, has been appointed the project manager thanks to her experience in doing social activities.

 

“My classmates know a little about Vietnam as well as the prolonged consequences that America left in our country. Vietnam Jump will help them to know more about Vietnam,” she said.

 

Vietnam JUMP will bring around 15 foreign students to Ha Tay during their winter and New Year holiday, from December 9-23, 2007. The student volunteers will share themselves with disabled children at the Friendship Village and do other social activities as well as visit some landscapes in Vietnam. Participants will be selected through two interviews.

 

However, funding is a problem for the organisers of this project. According to Phuong Thuy, Singapore’s Great Eastern Insurance Company and Vietnam’s Golden Key Education Vietnam & Training Investment Company have agreed to fund this project.

 

“We will still have to seek other sources of sponsorship besides the committed funding from the two companies,” Phuong Thuy said.

 

(Source: TN)

Agent Orange disease back in the spotlight

“I want the United States government to see the damage to our bodies, to our land and to our people.”

By Alexa Aguilar, Tribune staff reporter. The Associated Press contributed to this report
Published June 26, 2007

Nguyen Thi Hong, 60, is in the last stages of terminal breast cancer, her legs covered in a scabby rash.

Nguyen Van Quy, 52, weighs just 83 pounds because of his stomach cancer. At home in Vietnam, his two children are severely disabled and a third child died of congenital defects soon after birth.

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Hong and Quy, along with two other Vietnamese citizens, are stopping in four American cities, including Chicago, this week to drum up awareness for their illnesses, which they say were caused by Agent Orange, a defoliant the U.S. sprayed on the Vietnam landscape during the Vietnam War.

Last week, they sat in a New York courthouse as their lawyers sought to reinstate a proposed class-action suit in arguments before a federal appeals court. The lawyers argued that U.S. chemical companies committed war crimes when they provided the U.S. military with herbicides containing the toxin dioxin. They want a jury to decide whether the companies should pay damages to 3 million Vietnamese.

A U.S. District judge in New York dismissed the lawsuit in 2005, ruling that Agent Orange cannot be considered a poison under international rules of war, that there is no evidence to show the companies acted with criminal intent, and that there are no large studies proving dioxin is to blame.

American troops sprayed more than 21 million gallons of Agent Orange on Vietnam between 1962 and 1971 to destroy vegetative cover used by communist forces.

Hong she said she was exposed directly to the herbicide in 1964 while a member of the National Liberation Front. In 1990, she moved to Bien Hoa, where dioxin had been stored. The residents drank water and ate fish from a nearby lake, she said. In 1999, she was diagnosed with cancer.

“I am here as living evidence,” she said Monday through a translator, standing near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in downtown Chicago. “I want the United States government to see the damage to our bodies, to our land and to our people.”

Thousands of American veterans receive medical disability benefits related to Agent Orange. In 1984, seven chemical companies settled out of court for $180 million with U.S. veterans who claimed the herbicide caused their health problems.

On Friday, when President Bush met with Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet, he mentioned the lingering effects of Agent Orange and the $3 million Congress approved to clean up the “hot spots” that remain in the country. And this month, the Ford Foundation formed a “dialogue group,” which includes Vietnamese leaders and Christine Todd Whitman, a former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, to study the issue.

But advocates say studies and dialogue aren’t helping the millions of Vietnamese exposed to Agent Orange who are scraping by on the compensation they receive from their government.

“Dialogue is better than no dialogue,” said Merle Ratner, co-coordinator of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign, which is working to raise awareness of the lawsuit. “But this is urgent. These people are dying.”

The U.S. organizations Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, United for Peace & Justice and the National Lawyers Guild are sponsoring the group’s visit.

Seth Waxman, a former U.S. solicitor general who argued on behalf of the companies last week, said Monday that he wouldn’t comment on the case because it was pending.

He said in court last week that the companies were following the instructions of U.S. leaders during wartime and that the use of Agent Orange was a battlefield decision. The plaintiffs can’t sue the U.S. government because of sovereign immunity.

——–

aaguilar@tribune.com

 
23:18′ 22/04/2007 (GMT+7)

VietNamNet Bridge – Len Aldis, Secretary of the Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society (BVFS), called at the Cambridge University on April 19 to rally support for Vietnamese Agent Orange (AO) victims in their lawsuit against US defoliant producers.

The Briton man provided students with stories of physical and mental pains suffered day by day by Vietnamese AO victims who he have met during his visits to the country.

He said that more than 30 years after the war in Vietnam, the herbicides sprayed by the US Army have left severe consequences on three successive generations of Vietnamese people. However, they have not yet received any compensation from the US.

Len Aldis added that the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA), in January 2004, filed a lawsuit against more than 30 US chemical companies which had produced herbicides for the US Army during the war in Vietnam. The US courts had rejected their petitions, but in the meantime, asked the chemical companies to pay compensations for American veterans during the Vietnam War.

Aldis affirmed that this was actually an unjust action; therefore, people worldwide should continue to support Vietnamese AO victims in the fight for justice.

The conversation was part of a campaign, which was held by the BVFS at universities throughout Britain, to support Vietnamese AO victims. Len Aldis plans to hold more conversations at the universities of Nottingham, Birmingham and Manchester.

(Source: VNA)

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