[T]he government’s interest in veterans cases is not that it shall win, but rather that justice shall be done, that all veterans so entitled receive the benefits due to them.” Barrett v. Nicholson, 466 F.3d 1038, 1044 (Fed.Cir.2006)
18 January 2019
Vietnam War Agent Orange Spray Ops Approved 57 Years Ago Today
U.S. launches spraying of Agent Orange, Jan. 18, 1962
After a period of testing, on this day in 1962, President John F. Kennedy gave final approval to “Operation Ranch Hand” — a massive UC-123K effort to defoliate the forests of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos with an herbicide known as Agent Orange.
It involved the spraying of an estimated 20 million gallons of powerful herbicides over rural South Vietnam to deprive Viet Cong insurgents aligned with the communist government in Hanoi of food and vegetation trail cover. To a lesser extent, areas of Cambodia and Laos were also sprayed. The U.S. Air Force flew nearly 20,000 UC-123K sorties from 1961 to 1971.
During the decade of spraying, more than 5 million acres of forest and 500,000 acres of crops were heavily damaged or destroyed. Some one-fifth of South Vietnam’s forests were sprayed at least once — at up to 50 times the concentration that would be deployed for normal agricultural use.
Kennedy insisted on approving individual spray runs until November 1962, when the president authorized Military Assistance Command, Vietnam and the U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam to approve them.
Previously, top administration officials had debated whether to allow the destruction of crops, at the risk of violating the Geneva Protocol, which the United States had signed in 1925. However, Dean Rusk, the secretary of State, had told Kennedy on Nov. 24, 1961, that "[t]he use of defoliant does not violate any rule of international law concerning the conduct of chemical warfare and is an accepted tactic of war. Precedent has been established by the British during the emergency in Malaya in their use of aircraft for destroying crops by chemical spraying.”
In early 1964, members of The Federation of American Scientists began to object to the use of defoliants. The American Association for the Advancement of Science passed a resolution in 1966 calling for a field investigation of the Vietnamese herbicide program. In 1967, 17 Nobel laureates and 5,000 other scientists signed a petition asking for the immediate end to the use of herbicides in Vietnam. The administration ignored it.
The spraying program led some 3 million Vietnamese to suffer health problems caused by exposure to Agent Orange, including a million birth defects. Additionally, the toll on members of the U.S. military who handled the chemicals or were deployed in and around the targeted drop zone areas during the war caused another 2.8 million personnel and their offspring to suffer from its long-term affect — chiefly various cancerous conditions. Post-Vietnam C-123 veterans were also affected but granted disability benefits only after June 19, 2015.
While Operation Ranch Hand ended in 1971, its impact is still being felt today. The Veterans Administration recognizes a long list of diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange. Vietnam War and C-123 veterans who were exposed and suffer from one of these conditions receive automatic presumptions of a service linkage, making them eligible for treatment at government expense, without the need to positively prove that such connections exist.
SOURCE: “This Day in Presidential History,” by Paul Brandus (2018)