First let me thank the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange/dioxin
for organizing this international conference and to the Agent Orange Vets
from Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Canada who have traveled here to
The US delegation I am leading is made up of Agent Orange vets Frank
Corcoran, Joan Duffy, Ralph Steele Dan Shea.
I was an infantryman with the 25th Infantry Division in Cu Chi and Tay Ninh
in 1967 and was wounded 3 times but do not suffer from dioxin related health
When I came back from the war, I had knowledge of the use of Agent Orange
having seen sprayed areas and knew that they destroyed nature but had no
knowledge of the negative effects these defoliants had on human beings.
I remember in 1969 a veteran I knew named Jeff Sharlett died of cancer at
age 27 in the Miami, Florida Veterans Hospital and thinking it was strange
that someone so young had cancer.
Over the years other friends of mine got sick or had deformed children or
sometimes died. Mike Keegan and John Miffin who died and John and Rena
Kopystenski who had several children with birth defects are among them. So
this issue has always been personal to me.
In 1977, a woman who worked as a claims representative at the Chicago
Veterans Administration named Maude DeVictor was the first person to really
put two and two together when she witnessed the VA higher-ups denying
veterans claims and covering up their health problems and the connections to
The next year, 1978, a veteran name Paul Reutershan who was sick with cancer
got on television and said "my government killed me in Vietnam and I didn't
even know it". He began a lawsuit against the chemical companies who
manufactured Agent Orange, Blue, White, Purple etc. but he never lived to
see that lawsuit completed because he died within the year.
The reason that this lawsuit was started was because the VA was denying
veterans claims for medical treatment and compensation and according to US
law, citizens cannot sue the government for these type of claims.
From 1978-1984 the lawsuit continued and was eventually settled, although
many veterans opposed the settlement for millions of dollars. Sadly many
veterans got very little of that money since the army of lawyers who got
involved got a good portion of it in legal fees.
I have been a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War since 1970 and that
organization played a critical role in launching the movement for justice
for Agent Orange vets, supporting Maude Devictor who became the godmother of
the movement, recruiting veterans to joining the lawsuit and raising general
public awareness of this issue.
But we always believed that while the chemical companies had responsibility
and should be held liable, the primary responsibility lay with the US
government which ordered and continued to use these poisons after they were
becoming aware of the negative effects on people. Instead of changing
course, they covered up the facts and kept using them until 1971. After that
they gave their remaining supplies to the former Army of the Republic of
Vietnam who continued to use them until 1975 when that regime ceased to
In VVAW, our demand has always been Testing, Treatment and Compensation for
Agent Orange Victims. We never thought the lawsuit against the chemical
companies was the answer, but rather a way to continue putting pressure on
the US government.
Finally progress was made on that front when in 1991, Congress passed the
Agent Orange Act, acknowledging several conditions as being dioxin related
for purposes of medical treatment and disability compensation. It also
established a mechanism for the National Academy of Sciences Institute of
Medicine to review new studies and make recommendations to the Secretary of
the Veterans Administration for expanding the recognized conditions.
Currently there are thirteen conditions acknowledged by the VA including two
conditions among veterans children but over 27 conditions have been rejected
since there was a finding by the IOM of not enough scientific research to
indicate a connection to dioxin exposure.
So many veterans are still not being treated with any fairness. And how does
someone give justice to all those who have died? The hidden casualties of
the Vietnam War continue to grow but the struggle continues as well.
And today we need to talk about the other side of the coin, not just
American, Korean, Australian, New Zealand and Canadian veterans but the
people of Vietnam as well.
Remember also that these chemicals were also used in parts of Cambodia and
Laos as well as along the DMZ in Korea and in Panama.
In the United States we began the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and
Responsibility Campaign to support the efforts of VAVA and join with
concerned veterans and people in other countries to demand Justice for ALL
Agent Orange Victims!
While the Campaign is sponsored by Veterans For Peace, it is made up of war
veterans, Vietnamese-Americans, peace activists, environmentalists and other
friends of Vietnam. We are supporting the international petition drive in
support of the VAVA lawsuit and recently sponsored a 10 city speaking tour
by 4 VAVA members.
We are also planning to encourage sympathetic representatives and senators
to introduce legislation in Congress for the US government to step up to the
plate and provide compensation and medical assistance, if not for political
reasons, then fro moral and humanitarian purposes. It is time to really heal
the wounds of that war, not to ignore them or let them fade into history.
Let me make on last point. This is a struggle to expose and end the use of
chemical weapons by all nations but especially by my government. This is not
just about something that happened over 30 years ago. Today the Bush
administration has led our country and the world into another invasion and
occupation, this time in Iraq and is now used Depleted Uranium that will in
time poison US troops and Iraqi citizens. They have also used White
Phosphorus bombs against whole cities like Fallujah.
It is time for humanity to demand an end to these weapons as part of our
efforts to abolish war. That is what Veterans For Peace is pledged to work
for. That will only come through the determined efforts of all of us,
throughout the world.
The great American abolitionist Fredrick Douglass said:
"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor
freedom yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up
the ground, they want rain without the thunder and lightning. They want the
ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.
This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, but it must
be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it
With that as our watchword, lets make this conference a call to all the
people of the world.
JUSTICE FOR ALL AGENT ORANGE VICTIMS!