Questions regarding Agent Orange arose in the United States after an increasing number of returning Vietnam veterans and their families began to report a range of afflictions, including rashes and other skin irritations, miscarriages, psychological symptoms, Type-2 diabetes, birth defects in children and cancers such as Hodgkin’s disease, prostate cancer and leukemia.
In 1979, a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of 2.4 million veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during their service in Vietnam. Five years later, in an out-of-court-settlement, seven large chemical companies that manufactured the herbicide agreed to pay $180 million in compensation to the veterans or their next of kin. Various challenges to the settlement followed, including lawsuits filed by some 300 veterans, before the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed it in 1988. By that time, the settlement had risen to some $240 million including interest. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Agent Orange Act, which mandated that some diseases associated with defoliants (including non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas, soft tissue sarcomas and chloracne) be treated as the result of wartime service and helped codify the VA’s response to veterans with conditions related to their exposure to Agent Orange.
Effects of Agent Orange on Vietnam
In addition to the massive environmental impact of the U.S. defoliation program in Vietnam, that nation has reported that some 400,000 people were killed or maimed as a result of exposure to herbicides like Agent Orange. In addition, Vietnam claims half a million children have been born with serious birth defects, while as many 2 million people are suffering from cancer or other illness caused by Agent Orange.