Vietnam War victims seek compensation

Dang Hong Nhut and Tran Thi Hoan, two Vietnamese women who suffered from exposure to Agent Orange during the war in their country, said Tuesday afternoon at the Elliott School of International Affairs that victims of Agent Orange need compensation.

Agent Orange, a chemical used by American forces during the Vietnam War as a defoliant, has been known to cause cancer and birth defects in those who were exposed to its toxins. Speaking through a translator, Nhut said other groups who were exposed to Agent Orange have been compensated, but the people of Vietnam have not received any money for their trauma.

“Vietnamese victims are forgotten,” Nhut said.

Lawsuits by Vietnamese victims seeking compensation have been dismissed in American courts, although an appeal was filed this week in the Supreme Court, she said.

Hoan, who studies computer science at a university in Ho Chi Minh City, advocated for compensation from American companies that manufactured Agent Orange, as well as the U.S. government.

“The victims of Agent Orange would like a good life,” Hoan said.

Nhut said she was exposed to Agent Orange in 1965. Hoan, the daughter of a woman exposed to Agent Orange during the war, has birth defects resulting from her mother’s exposure to the chemical.

Nhut said she was exposed to Agent Orange in 1965 and has since suffered numerous health problems, from skin problems to an intestinal tumor. Nhut also attributed multiple miscarriages to Agent Orange exposure.

“There are millions of Vietnamese who are victims like me,” she said.

During the presentation, a film showed the consequences of Agent Orange, ranging from ecological damage to birth defects and cancer and included images of children missing vertebrae and deformed fetuses.

Nhut also referred to non-Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange, such as American soldiers who fought during the Vietnam War.

“This Agent Orange did not avoid anyone,” she said.

Responding to questions, Nhut said the Vietnamese government instituted policies that benefit victims, such as free hospital visits and government payments for those caring for sick children. The World Health Organization, meanwhile, has not played a large enough role in assisting those exposed to Agent Orange, she said. Humanitarian groups, however, have provided some help.

A representative of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign, a group that advocates for compensation from both private chemical companies and the U.S. government for Agent Orange victims, was also present, distributing information and cards for audience members to send to their elected representatives.

Shawn McHale, the director of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies which sponsored the event, said the likelihood of attaining compensation through Congress is low, but he pointed to persistence as a key component of the Vietnamese efforts. He said the issue of compensation is “one of those little issues that is an irritant between U.S. and Vietnamese relations.”

“This is a long-term thing,” he said. “They will succeed in the long run.”

Mandy McKeever, a graduate student in international development, said the event gave her a much better understanding of Agent Orange.

“I think prior to seeing this, I had a general view (of Agent Orange),” she said. “This really highlighted some of the effects.”

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