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Vietnamese Agent Orange sufferers
to hold program in San Francisco

Photo courtesy Roland Schmid

By Julia Cheever

June 24, 2007

A delegation of Vietnamese citizens who say they were poisoned by Agent Orange spraying during the Vietnam War is due to stop in San Francisco this week on its way home from a crucial court hearing in New York.

The delegates are members of Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange, or VAVA, which is seeking to sue 36 U.S. chemical companies on behalf of an estimated 3 million Vietnamese suffering cancer and birth defects allegedly caused by dioxin in Agent Orange.

Agent Orange was widely used by the U.S. military in the 1960s to defoliate forests and destroy crops in Vietnam. The defoliant contained dioxin, a high toxic chemical that, according to the Vietnamese, persists in soil in their country.

The delegates are stopping in San Francisco on their way back from a June 18 hearing before a federal appeals court in New York on their appeal of a lower court ruling dismissing the lawsuit. A decision is expected within several months.

On Wednesday at 7 p.m., the Vietnamese citizens will present a program at the War Memorial Veterans Building to discuss their experiences. The event is sponsored by three American groups -- the San Francisco branch of Veterans for Peace, the National Lawyers Guild and the Military Law Task Force.

Veterans for Peace member Paul Cox, 59, of Berkeley, said, "U.S. veterans know how much damage was inflicted on us by Agent Orange."

Cox said, "It's a very short step to understand how much more damage was inflicted on the Vietnamese by Agent Orange dioxin poisoning."

Cox, a Vietnam veteran, said he wasn't personally exposed to Agent Orange, but said his group is dedicated to raising awareness "about this tragic and ongoing legacy of that war for both the Vietnamese and U.S. veterans who are still seeking just compensation."

The Vietnamese delegation is made up of VAVA Vice President Tran Xuan Thu, a retired scientist and professor, and four people who are suffering from cancer, birth defects or birth defects in their children.

Nguyen Muoi, 23, whose father was exposed to Agent Orange while working as a cook for the South Vietnamese Army, has spina bifida and is unable to work because of severe back pain.

Nguyen Thi Hong, 60, was sprayed with Agent Orange at age 17 in 1964 while washing rice in a stream for the National Liberation Front. She has metastasized breast cancer, cirrhosis and high blood pressure and has three children who suffer birth defects including a heart problem.

The Vietnamese lawsuit contends that chemical companies including Dow Chemical Co. and Monsanto Co. should be held responsible because they were allegedly aware that dioxin was deadly and was not needed for defoliation, but failed to remove it from Agent Orange because of the expense.

The U.S. government was not sued because it is protected by the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

The chemical companies contend they were fulfilling their military contracts according to specifications and that there is no proof that Agent Orange caused the illnesses.

A position statement by Dow Chemical says, "The U.S. government and the Vietnamese government are responsible for military acts in Vietnam and the use of Agent Orange as a defoliant.... Any future issues involving Agent Orange should be the responsibility of the respective governments as a matter of political and social policy."

In the lower court ruling being appealed, U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein of Brooklyn, N.Y., said VAVA was entitled to try to sue under international law, but said that Agent Orange was intended to be an herbicide, not a poison, and that its use did not qualify as chemical warfare under international law in effect at the time.

Veterans for Peace filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting VAVA in the appeal before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

Cox said the group "will support the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange and other chemical defoliants all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary."

In a separate case filed by veterans who claimed Agent Orange injuries, seven chemical companies agreed in 1984 to a $180 million settlement, without admitting any wrongdoing. Some veterans who were not covered by the settlement are pursuing new lawsuits.

The Vietnamese delegation's program at 7 p.m. on Wednesday will take place in Room 219 on the second floor of the War Memorial Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Ave. at McAllister Street.

Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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