In this digital day and age it’s easy — and mostly commendable — to celebrate the legacy of our veterans dead or alive every November 11 with memes and hastily crafted hash tags on social media.
However, I wonder sometimes if those who never served could ever really understand the level of sacrifice made by our brave military men and women — particularly those who fought and died during wartime.
That isn’t a slight on vets who never found themselves in that hell. Any and all who serve or have served should be honored and respected.
Veteran’s Day, which was originally known as Armistice Day when it was created to celebrate the end of World War I, is in fact a day set aside each year to pay tribute to all American veterans — living or dead — who served honorably during war or peacetime.
However the lasting negative effect of war on many of our veterans and their children and grandchildren is undeniable and when contemplating the price paid for our freedom we must not minimize their contribution to the America we live in today.
In many cases the price of survival is and was too steep particularly for many of our seven million Vietnam veterans and their children who are still dealing with the effect of Agent Orange on them and their families.
According to Military.com, Agent Orange refers to a blend of tactical herbicides the U.S. military sprayed in the jungles of Vietnam and around the Korean demilitarized zone to remove trees and dense tropical foliage that provided enemy cover.
Herbicides were also used by the U.S. military to defoliate military facilities in the U.S. and in other countries as far back as the 1950s.
According to a 2017 opinion piece in the New York Times, in 1967 the United States sprayed 5.1 million gallons of herbicides with the toxic chemical dioxin across Vietnam, a single-year record for the decade-long campaign to defoliate the countryside.
It was done without regard to dioxin’s effect on human beings or its virulent and long afterlife.
Chemical companies making Agent Orange opted for maximum return despite in-house memos that a safer product could be made for a slight reduction in profits.
American soldiers were among the unintended victims of this decision: Unwarned, they used the empty 55-gallon drums for makeshift showers.
In all almost 20 million gallons of Agent Orange was sprayed in Vietnam, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The chemical was also used at several U.S. military posts in America, Southeast Asia, and Canada, according to the agency.
After the war ended in the mid 1970s, Vietnam veterans began a decades-long fight to get medical treatment and compensation for ailments presumed to be Agent Orange-related.
According to the Times piece, records from Agent Orange lawsuits indicate that both the military and the chemical companies involved were well aware, early on, of the dangers of dioxin, so much so that our government terminated the program three years before the war’s end.
Our government has acknowledged some of its responsibility to its veterans. In 2010, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki added three Agent Orange-related diseases to the V.A.’s compensation list, and Congress allocated $13.3 billion to cover the costs.
Today the VA presumes the following diseases to be service-connected for such exposed Veterans:
AL amyloidosis, Chloracne or other acneform disease similar to chloracne, Chronic B-cell leukemias (including, but not limited to, hairy-cell leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia), Diabetes mellitus (Type 2), Hodgkin’s disease, Ischemic heart disease, Multiple myeloma, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, Peripheral Neuropathy, Early-Onset, Porphyria cutanea tarda, Prostate cancer, Respiratory cancers (lung, bronchus, larynx, trachea), Soft-tissue sarcoma (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma).
Of course the list of related diseases is probably much longer considering all the unknowns and all the undiagnosed situations but what is known is estimates from the VAshow that almost three million Americans may have been exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War and in certain other combat areas.
In fact, according to a 1991 law, veterans who served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975 are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange if diagnosed with a medical condition associated with the herbicide.
And that doesn’t even begin to take into account all of the Vietnamese families that have been affected by our government’s decision to dump that silent killer on the battlefield with no regard to the toll it would have on the human beings on the ground.
The Vietnamese claim that four million people were exposed to Agent Orange and three million of its people suffer from medical conditions that were caused by the exposure from the Vietnam War.