Agent Orange will cost America $42 billion over 10 years

A 2004 photograph of Prof. Nguyen Ngoc Phuong with a group of children in a Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam hospital. The children are all disabled, most of them due to the continuing effects of the chemical weapon Agent Orange.

Prof. Nguyen Ngoc Phuong with victims of Agent Orange, 2004. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Alexis Duclos/Wikipedia)

In addition to being the cause of severe birth defects for generations of Vietnamese children, the herbicide/chemical weapon Agent Orange has afflicted more than 1 million American veterans. Scores of soldiers who enlisted or were drafted to serve their country came home with such conditions as acute peripheral neuropathy, soft tissue sarcoma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma, to name a few. In two months, approximately 270,000 Vietnam War veterans – more than a quarter of the 1 million-plus receiving disability checks, reports the Washington Post – are to be compensated for diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s and certain types of leukemia under a new rule. This new rule will cost American taxpayers $42 billion over the next 10 years.

Agent Orange: running the gamut from diabetes to erectile dysfunction

According to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, diabetes is the most common Agent Orange-related medical complication Vietnam veterans face. Other conditions, such as erectile dysfunction, that would otherwise be attributed to age are being tied to Agent Orange, so veterans are being compensated. Former Wyoming Republican senator and current chairman of President Obama’s deficit commission, Alan Simpson, has said such compensation flies in the face of commitments to control federal spending.

“The irony (is) that the veterans who saved this country are now, in a way, not helping us to save the country in this fiscal mess,” he said.

Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, is also critical of what he calls “presumptive conditions” that are being addressed with taxpayer funds. On Sept. 23 or soon thereafter, Akaka will participate in a hearing that will address “what changes Congress and the VA may need to make to existing law and policy,” he said via an e-mail obtained by the Post.

VA spending does not compute

According to the Associated Press, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs may end up overpaying for Vietnam veterans with diabetes. Independent calculations based upon VA records suggest that $850 million per year would sufficiently address those in need, but the VA’s numbers – which they do not track by specific illness – are estimated to be significantly higher. Considering that the VA spends $34 billion a year on disability benefits for American veterans wars, the $42 billion increase over the next 10 years is an earth-shattering leap.

‘Credible evidence for association’

Victoria Anne Cassano, the Veterans’ Health Administration Director of Radiation and Physical Exposures, points to a 1991 federal law on Agent Orange that states that a positive link between afflictions and the chemical agent exists “if the credible evidence for the association is equal to or outweighs the credible evidence against the association.”

The Post reports it doesn’t take much to meet that burden of proof. As Cassano puts it, “Does it make you take a deep breath? Does it give you pause? Yes. But you still do what you think is the right thing to do.”

Sources:

U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Washington Post

Wikipedia article on Agent Orange

The children of Agent Orange, 2008 (WARNING: Disturbing content)

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