Vietnamese Agent Orange sufferers
to hold program in San Francisco
Photo courtesy Roland
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
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
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
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.
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