Author Topic: Agent Orange victims lack needed financial support  (Read 956 times)

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Agent Orange victims lack needed financial support
« on: April 01, 2012, 05:06:56 PM »
Agent Orange victims lack needed financial support
Members of the Red Cross Society and enterprises join a walk in HCM City yesterday to support Agent Orange victims and the disabled. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Vu

HA NOI — In the 50 years since US troops began spraying Agent Orange and other toxic chemicals onto Viet Nam's central and southern regions, millions continue to suffer from illness and disability due to the exposure.

Veteran Nghiem Viet Thang, who lives on Thai Thinh Street in Ha Noi, is among the afflicted.

In 1972, like other young patriots, Thang volunteered for the military and was assigned to fight against the US at the most intensively bombed areas in the southern provinces of Tay Ninh, Loc Ninh, Binh Phuoc and Phuoc Long and in the central province of Quang Tri.

According to Chinh, complex procedures which required certification from authorised agencies that Agent Orange victims participated in the war between 1961 and 1975, as well as a medical assessment of Agent Orange exposure, severely limit the number of those eligible.

"Many lost their legal documents during the war and haven't been able to get them back, while others have found it quite difficult to get the verifying medical exams due to the high cost," he said. "Earning money for daily meals are challenges enough for them."

Tran Thi Phuong Dung, vice chairwoman of the Ha Noi Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin, said victims whose grandchildren were born with malformations and those who work or live in contaminated areas had yet to be added to the list of those eligible for financial support.

Currently, only 45 per cent of victims in Ha Noi were receiving the allowances, she noted. The rest either fail the procedures needed to qualify or a third generation of exposure. Those whose children were born without disability but whose grandchildren were affected had a particularly difficult time proving eligibility, she said.

To ease the physical pains and financial burdens of Agent Orange victims, VAVA is proposing that the Government take a census of the number of victims as well as their current standards of living as a basis for reforming the assistance policy.

Twelve centres had been built around the country for afflicted children, but these centres were not enough for the thousands of unlucky children nationwide, Dung said.

VAVA, meanwhile, has plans to build three more centres in the provinces of Ba Ria-Vung Tau and Thai Binh and in the city of Da Nang.

Action month

More than 10,000 people walked around Thien Quang Lake in Ha Noi yesterday at the launch ceremony of the Action Month for Agent Orange (AO) Victims, marking the 50th year since the AO/dioxin tragedy began on August 10, 1961.

The event was organised by the Viet Nam Red Cross (VNRC) with the theme "Join hands to take care and improve living conditions for AO victims in Viet Nam".

"Taking care of AO victims and improving their lives are the responsibilities of the Party and the people," said the VNRC Chairman Tran Ngoc Tang at the ceremony.

Tang called on the local and international communities to support AO victims both physically and spiritually.

Tang asked VNRC members to spread the word about the serious consequences of toxic chemicals on human health and the environment. At the event, Tang and Chairwoman of the National Assembly's Social Affairs Commission Truong Thi Mai handed over scholarships and wheelchairs to students and the disabled related to AO victims.

A photography exhibition on the consequences of AO and other community humanitarian activities to help AO victims were also held on the occasion.

The VNRC also received 650 blood units from a donation programme launched with the aim of supporting AO victims. It hopes to raise around VND70billion (US$3.4million) to help AO victims during the month.

More than 80 million litres of AO were sprayed over Viet Nam by the US army from 1961-67. Around 4.8 million people were exposed to AO/dioxin, of which about 3 million were victims directly suffering from the deadly toxin, according to VNRC statistics. — VNS

Three years later, as the war ended, Thang returned home and married. The young soldier didn't know that he had been exposed to a toxic chemical until his son was born.

The boy was born with twisted limbs, a distorted face, congenital heart disease and a mental disability. Unable to walk, speak or wash for himself, he has required complete care for 26 years, Thang said. Thang's wife had to quit her job to stay at home with him.

Thang saw his own physical capacity reduced by over 61 per cent due to the effects of the chemical but had no option but to be the family's sole breadwinner. The former soldier, now 60, uses an old three-wheeled vehicle to transport cargo, earning about VND2 million ($98) per month.

Although weak with a variety of illnesses, including high blood pressure, arthritis and depression, Thang seldom has a day off.

"Life is not always easy," Thang said. "We try our best to bring up our son and keep him healthy until we no longer can."

The former soldier said the family receives the monthly allowance for Agent Orange/dioxin victims of VND2 million ($98), but the old couple has faced financial difficulties each time their son has had heart attacks and required hospitalisation.

"We try to help him with tips from the doctors. We only take him to the hospital when we have no choice," Thang said.

And his case is hardly unique.

Figures from the Viet Nam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) estimate that there are 3 million victims nationwide, 70 per cent of whom live below the poverty line, with an average income of less than VND400,000 ($19) per month.

More than 20 per cent of families have over three members dealing with the effects of exposure and 90 per cent have no professional skills, according to VAVA .

"Many families have up to five victims who can't work to survive, suffer from chronic diseases and deal with extreme difficulties," said the head of VAVA's information department, Mai The Chinh.

"They are the poorest of the poor and the most miserable of the miserable," Chinh said.

Under State policy, victims and their children with birth defects receive a monthly allowance of VND1.2-2 million ($58-98) depending on the degree of their disability. However, only about 200,000 victims out of about 3 million are eligible for the support.

The ongoing battle against Agent Orange

Between 1961-71, the US Army sprayed some 80 million litres of Agent Orange over southern Viet Nam as part of its efforts to suppress the Vietnamese revolutionary movement. Nearly a quarter of the area of southern Viet Nam, including ecosystems from mountainous to coastal areas, was seriously polluted.

During that time, about 4.8 million Vietnamese were exposed to dangerous toxins, and about 3 million became the direct victims of dioxin poisoning. Hundreds of thousands have died, and many hundreds of thousands more, including their children born with horrible birth defects, live day and night with the consequences of exposure.

The Viet Nam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) was established in 2004 to represent victims in a lawsuit against the manufacturers of Agent Orange. VAVA has since raised over VND270 billion ($13.2 million) from international and domestic organisations and individuals to support victims.

In 2004, VAVA and a number of victims filed a petition with the US District Court against 37 US chemical companies that produced and supplied toxic chemicals to the US Army during the war in Viet Nam. Five years later, the US court dismissed the lawsuit, saying that there was insufficient evidence to link the companies to the alleged harms.

In 2009, the International People's Tribunal of Conscience in Paris issued a verdict affirming that the US Government and US chemical companies must fully compensate Agent Orange victims and their families and detoxicate the soil and water of Viet Nam.

Between 2007 and 2009, the US Congress approved an annual aid package of $3 million, with an additional $15 million in 2010, to mitigate the consequences of Agent Orange. Another $32 million aid package was announced to detoxicate Da Nang Airport, where dioxin levels are estimated to be 300 times higher than internationally accepted levels.

The dioxin decontamination project at the Da Nang Airport, where US forces stored the chemicals during the war, is now being carried out to reduce human exposure to the chemical. About 30ha of contaminated land is expected to be cleaned up for commercial use by late 2013. — VNS
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