A war that ended 40 years ago continues to claim new victims. When the US military sprayed millions of gallons of Agent Orange herbicide over Vietnam – defoliating rural areas to deprive the Viet Cong of shelter – it wasn’t known that its major component, dioxin, is a cancer-causing toxin.
More recently it has become clear that the herbicide also mutates DNA sequences, causing devastating birth defects as well as cancers. But thousands of children of Vietnam veterans are being denied compensation by the US Government, which refuses to recognise most of the defects that are passed through paternal lines.
Tanya, 41, was recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer after enduring four hip replacements, several skin cancer operations and a hysterectomy. Although her veteran father was certified disabled following Agent Orange exposure and died from colon cancer three years ago, she is not eligible for help with her own vast medical bills.
‘There are too many of us,’ she fears. ‘It would be very expensive if we were compensated. They took a “deny until you die” approach with the veterans. Now they are doing it with the second generation.’
While tens of thousands still suffer from Agent Orange’s toxic legacy in the US, in Vietnam the numbers run into the several millions. Dioxin-triggered mutations still plague families, with fourth-generation victims now being born.