An open letter to the Government of Australia
The ongoing concerns of Vietnam Veterans and their families.
By Gary McMahon
Make no mistake. Our families and we Vietnam veterans have been poisoned by one of, if not the most deadly chemical known to man. The human cost of this poisoning has yet to be totaled. The two most important features of this killer are the slow effect rate and the diverse symptomology. That is, its effects are delayed. After being ingested by the body, it is stored in the fat tissue only to be released at a later time.
The range of symptoms that this killer throws out are obscene:
Dermatological, neurological, gastrointestinal, and psychological disorders.
Chloracne, an incurable rash on the face, neck, back, arms and legs, boils, blisters, skin irritation and sensitivity to sunlight.
Loss of sensation and tingling in the fingers and toes, intolerance to cold, damage to the peripheral nervous system. Constant fatigue. Depression, inability to concentrate, nervousness and irritability, insomnia, vertigo, loss of sex drive, recurring headaches, nausea and sudden unexplained weight loss. Red blood rectal bleeding has also been reported.
Respiratory distress, shortness of breath, allergies, tender liver, recurring digestive upset and slowed digestion, vascular lesions, stomach, intestinal kidney and liver pain, and stiffness. Swelling and pain in the joints of the arms and legs.
Finally and probably worst of all, numerous and varied birth defects in the children of Vietnam veterans. All documented in our governments last mortality study into the health of Vietnam veterans and their families.
New evidence supports the association between chemicals used in herbicides in the Vietnam War and cancers and other assorted health problems. It has been confirmed that there is a link to Soft Tissue Sarcoma, Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and Cloracne.
There is also evidence to show an association with the congenital birth defect Spina Bifida in veteran’s children, and with a neurological disorder in veterans.
The latest Mortality Study into the health of Vietnam veterans and their families shows a horrifying number of abnormalities and serious health problems suffered by the families of Vietnam veterans. While we may be prepared to wait for the wheels of government to turn as pathetically slow as they do concerning our own health problems, we are not prepared to give an inch or to listen to any bullshit when it comes to the health of our children. This needs to be looked at and fixed…NOW.
Although we refer to the chemicals as Agent Orange there were in fact fifteen chemicals used extensively in Vietnam during the war. They are:
PURPLE.…………A formulation of 2,4,-D and 2,4,5,-T used in 1962 to 1964.
GREEN...…………Contained 2,4,5,-T and was used 1962-1964.
PINK..…………….Contained 2,4,5,-T and was used 1962-1964.
ORANGE…………A formulation of 2,4,D and 2,4,5,-T used in 1965 to 1970.
WHITE……………A formulation of Picloram and 2,4,-D.
BLUE…………….Contained cacodylic acid.
ORANGE 11……A formulation of2,4,-D and 2,4,5,-T used in 1968 and 1969.
DINOXOL………A formulation of 2,4,-D and 2,4,5,-T.
Tested in Vietnam between 1962 and 1964.
TRINOXOL: …Contained 2,4,5,-T. Tested in Vietnam 1962 to 1964.
Quantities of all of the above were tested in Vietnam, 1962 – 1964.
Agent Orange is the best known of the chemical killers as it was used as part of the massive defoliation program to destroy jungle cover, crops and other vegetation during the Vietnam War.
Prior to using Agent Orange the military experimented with Agent Green, Agent Pink, and Agent Purple.
In 1965 Agent Orange and Agent White replaced the previous agents and began to be used in even larger amounts as the war escalated.
Agent Blue, the only agent not derived from phenoxyacetic acid, was used through all phases of the war. All of these herbicides were named after the colourcoded bands around the 55-gallon drums they were stored in.
The volume of undiluted herbicide sprayed is testimony to the wide degree of exposure among the military in all areas of Vietnam. All military personnel were exposed, though some were exposed more directly with greater amounts of herbicide than others.
Exposure came through contaminated food and water; through direct contact to the skin and from breathing the fumes and many other ways.
Also, the cocktail effect, the multiple exposure to toxic agents like, 24D, 245T, Cacodylic Acid, and Picloram were accompanied by stress, fatigue, high humidity and temperatures and the use of other drugs.
The chemical killer that is the biggest worry to veterans is TCCD (2,3,7,8,Tetrachlorodibenzopdioxin), better known simply as dioxin. There are 75 different dioxins, but scientists recognize the dioxin found in 245T as the most toxic synthetic chemical in existence. Out of 44 million lbs. Of 245T sprayed, some 368 lbs. Of TCDD were deposited in Vietnam.
When we look at the degree of toxicity of dioxin it amazes me that anyone would bother to do surveys and health studies trying to prove or disprove a link. This stuff is unbelievably deadly.
Think of Dioxin this way; it is measured in parts per trillion. This can be roughly compared to a teaspoon of salt mixed evenly through a dump truck full of sand. The extreme toxicity of Dioxin makes even this amount a potentially lethal dose. It is the most potent cancer-causing agent known to man. The tiniest amount causes malignant tumors in animals. It is also a powerful teratogen, causing birth defects and reproductive toxicity such as stillbirths and miscarriages.
The sick part is, TCDD does NOT kill plants. It could have been removed from 245T without affecting its purpose. The manufacturers knew its extreme toxicity and the danger of using it, but TCDD was not removed from 245T because that would have increased production costs.
There needs to be action taken NOW.
Who the hell do the leaders of this country think they are? Do they honestly think they can get away with allowing the nations Armed Forces to be poisoned and then do nothing about it.
So far the diversity of these symptoms and the slow effect rate have encouraged government agencies to downplay the problem. Goodness knows how many veterans have died or suffered because of their inaction.
Remember that scientists knew the Agent Orange problems as early as 1972. The National Academy of Sciences in the US, in 1974, released their report, "The Effects of Herbicides in South Vietnam." They called for a variety of studies to begin immediately yet neither our federal government, nor the US federal government, or the scientists did anything. They still do nothing?
The Australian governments' latest study into The Mortality of Vietnam Veterans and their Families shocked even us Vietnam veterans.
The report shows that veterans, their spouse and their children suffer from a range of illnesses much, much higher than the rest of the population.
We all know about the greatly elevated rates of Spina Bifida and Cancer, and other normally rare diseases but I was shocked to the core when I read that the number of deaths of Vietnam veterans children from accident and suicide is 250% higher than for other Australians.
Other examples are:
Male breast cancer……………………..2,500% higher
Ischaemic heart disease……………….200%
Cancer of colon………………………….350%
Motor neuron disease…………………..6000%
Cleft lip or palate………………………...400%
Absent body parts……………………….1000%
I won't go on. I don't think I need to. This needs to be dealt with now.
We can no longer tolerate the inaction of our so-called leaders.
While we veterans now continue the task of fighting the government for treatment and disability payments, we need to remember who we are up against and the things they will do to deny responsibility.
The following is a reminder of the level they will stoop to. It is taken from The Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia's answer to The Report of the Royal Commission into the use and effects of Chemical Agents on Australian Personnel in Vietnam. I QUOTE:
THE TREATMENT OF EVIDENCE
The Commission's judgement on the question of exposure can only be understood when seen in context of the overall treatment of evidence. Evidence supporting the veterans' claims was without exeption rejected. Evidence suggesting that exposure was slight or that the chemicals involved were less than toxic was accepted without question or hesitation. In order to follow this approach it was necessary, at times, for the Commission to go to extraordinary lengths.
One of the key witnesses called on behalf of the Chemical companies was Mr. John Bamford. The Victorian Lands Department had employed Mr. Bamford as a member of a spraying team. He used 245T AND 24D, the active ingredients of Agent Orange. In cross-examination Mr. Bamford described the casual way in which he and his work mates had treated the chemicals, often spraying each other as if the material were water. On one particular hot day Mr. Bamford had climbed into the herbicide tank in order to cool off.
Justice Evatt was impressed by Mr. Bamfords evidence and he notes that at the time of his appearance before the commission Mr. Bamford was in good health as were his children. In his final report Justice Evatt concluded that Bamfords case added weight against any suggestion that 245T and 24D may cause short or long-term illness.
But this is not the conclusion that an objective assessment of Bamfords testimony demands. In citing the Bamford case as evidence against the veterans claims it was necessary for the Commission to omit all reference to the testimony given by Bamford during cross-examination by the QC assisting the VVAA.
Under questioning Mr. Bamford was asked about the fate of his workmates who had also been exposed to high concentrations of 245T and 24D.
He revealed that his workmates were now all dead. (Transcript p.1035)
Justice Evatt did not think this information compromised the Commission's verdict. In other words Bamford was well: this proved the chemicals were harmless. The fact that others were dead was not even worth a mention.
Tragically it is now known that since giving evidence, Mr. Bamford has experienced severe ill health. He has subsequently been diagnosed as suffering from health effects that the VVAA claimed are caused by exposure to 245T. Nothing was said to suggest Mr. Bamford suffered PTSD.
You can see from this sort of thing what a load of garbage we have had thrown at us over the years by the arrogant people we have had to deal with in our quest for fair and just treatment.
The Department of Veterans Affairs stooped to about gutter level during the Royal Commission too. Again I quote from the VVAA's answer to the report from the Royal Commissioner.
"When one looks at the complaints concerning the Department of Veterans Affairs and the files of people like "veteran 12" (in the report) where the departments conduct was life threatening and where documents were altered to cover the conduct. Or "veteran 11" (in the report) whose life might have been saved if the medical officers of the department were more active, it is difficult to see how Justice Evatt cannot be concerned about such conduct. Where the department was caught out the Commission says (Vol.7,p.xiv-227)
"The Commission notes that DVA frankly disclosed the falsification of the records. This is typical of the open way which DVA has accepted the investigations by this Commission."
"What is not said is that the veteran took copies of the file before the falsification took place - the DVA was caught out by documents showing the falsification. Nevertheless Justice Evatt seemed to believe admission of guilt excuses the conduct."
All that Vietnam veterans seek from the government and the Department of Veterans Affairs is a "fair go". It is obvious from the lousy treatment in the past and the huge range of health problems faced by veterans and their families that we have not had that so far.
It is time for action to be taken NOW.
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