ProPublica

Journalism in the Public Interest

Why We’re Investigating the Impact of Agent Orange

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(Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that some 2.6 million Americans who served during the Vietnam War era were exposed to a chemical mixture known as Agent Orange. The herbicide has been linked to health problems including Parkinson’s Disease, peripheral neuropathy, and even some cancers, yet many Vietnam veterans – and their families – continue to struggle in their fight for health benefits.

ProPublica’s Charles Ornstein and The Virginian-Pilot’s Mike Hixenbaugh have launched a new investigation specifically examining the generational impact of Agent Orange – asking veterans and their family members to share their experiences, both on the ground and in the 40 years since the fall of Saigon.

They join ProPublica’s senior engagement editor Amanda Zamora on the podcast to discuss how this project began and what they’ve managed to find in the more than 2,000 responses they've received so far.

Highlights from their conversation:

  • How “the science is trying to catch up with the anecdotal evidence.” There’s an entire movement of veterans who believe their exposure to Agent Orange has had a lasting impact on their children’s health – not just birth defects but conditions that manifest later in life. The VA, however, doesn't recognize this connection, pointing to a lack of definitive research. (11:07)
  • A new bill could change this. It would create a national resource center to study medical conditions in the descendants of those exposed to toxic substances during military service, Hixenbaugh says. (12:16)
  • Interestingly enough, the VA is opposed to this bill, Ornstein notes, saying it believes there are other health agencies more equipped to study this generational link. (13:20)

You can listen to this podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud or Stitcher.

Are you a Vietnam veteran or a family member of a veteran? Help us investigate the impact of Agent Orange by filling out our short, confidential survey.

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