Forgotten Victims of Agent Orange: Vietnamese-Americans
U.S. military veterans who fought in Vietnam decades ago are entitled today to government-paid disability benefits and health care if they suffer from exposure to Agent Orange, an herbicide widely used during the conflict.
But the same coverage is not available to the Vietnamese enduring the same effects from Agent Orange after fighting alongside American soldiers, and who later immigrated to the U.S.
One study published 10 years ago estimated that as many as 4.8 million Vietnamese civilians were exposed to herbicides used to destroy the country’s jungles. Many of those Vietnamese fled their homeland after the U.S. pulled out, and settled in California.
Vietnamese-Americans in California, in fact, have been found to suffer higher rates than other Asians when it comes to cancer and other health problems linked to Agent Orange exposure.
For example, Vietnamese men had among the highest incidence of all cancers combined, at just over 375 new cases annually per 100,000 population.
Vietnamese women had the highest rate of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and the highest death rate for this cancer.
Those who fought in the Vietnam War from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and South Korea have received Agent Orange disability benefits through their governments. In the U.S. alone, the Department of Veterans Affairs has allocated billions of dollars to cover disability benefits related to herbicide exposure.
But none of this money has gone to help Vietnamese-Americans.
Some members of Congress have tried to change this reality by proposing legislation that would make Vietnamese-Americans and other victims of wartime defoliants eligible for government assistance.
But it’s unlikely these bills will pass, especially since many Vietnamese-Americans refuse to complain about their troubles.
“By blaming American military action for their community’s illnesses, many feel, they would be siding with a Vietnamese Communist government they disdain against their new country, the United States, to which they are fervently devoted,” Ngoc Nguyen wrote for the San Jose Mercury News.
To Learn More:
A Neglected Peril: Vietnamese Americans and Agent Orange (by Ngoc Nguyen, San Jose Mercury News)
What's Agent Orange? Second-Generation Vietnamese-Americans and Agent Orange/Dioxin (by Lan H. Ngô, University of California Berkeley) (pdf)
U.S. Finally Cleaning Up Some of Its Agent Orange Mess in Vietnam (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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