Disgraceful Government Treatment of Veterans Affected by Agent Orange

An article in the Washington Post this weekend highlighted some awful actions taken by the U.S. military in order to avoid paying veterans who may have been affected by Agent Orange lingering on planes after the Vietnam War.  Much of it speaks for itself:

In 2010, the Air Force destroyed 18 of the Vietnam-era aircraft in part because of concerns about potential liability for Agent Orange, according to Air Force memos documenting the destruction…

The Air Force aborted plans to sell some of the planes in 1996, after evidence surfaced that 18 of them might still be contaminated with TCDD dioxin, a carcinogen associated with Agent Orange, according to Air Force document… The Air Force did not notify the post-Vietnam crews or Boneyard employees of the potential risk, according to Air Force documents…

Officials at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, which oversaw the planes, approved a consultant’s recommendation in 2009 to “dispose of/recycle the 18 UC-123K ‘Agent Orange’ aircraft as soon as possible to avoid further risk from media publicity, litigation, and liability for presumptive compensation,” according to a base memo in August 2009.

Subsequent testing of 17 aircraft in August 1996 detected “strong potential of low level concentrations of dioxin,” according to Air Force documents.

In December 1996, the Air Force requested the government terminate the sales, warning that “the potential for harm to individuals from dioxin contamination is great.”

It’s pretty sad when documents exist admitting the wrongdoing and the danger of these chemicals to people around it yet no action will be taken to compensate the victims who will suffer the consequences.  Especially sad when considering the amount of money the U.S. spends on defense and heaves upon defense contractors.

And, of course, these are just the lingering effects of Agent Orange on people who were not around when the actual spraying was being done and not the people who suffered the 20 million gallons that were dropped by U.S. forces on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, a clear violation of Geneva.

Where Should Our Priorities Lie on Defense Cuts?

As the Unites States has exited one war and is winding down another, it appears people are now ready to make some changes in the amount of money going to the defense department.  National Journal reported the results of a study showing roughly three-quarters of the respondents, whether living in red or blue districts, want defense cuts.  The priorities in where the cuts should come from show a slight difference in what people from these districts want:

Blue-district voters wanted bigger cuts to missile defense, long perceived as a Republican-favored program, but “respondents in red districts were a bit more ready to cut health care benefits for military families and retirees,” which require government spending.

On the surface, this seems slightly callous toward the red districts but the amounts to be cut from the actual report should be noted, particularly on health care.  Red districts want $7.4 billion cut while blue districts want $6.6 billion, which is certainly a significant amount from both sides.  We should note this does not divide the results into party differences but by which way the district leans so we should not make definitive assumptions about this being a party-line difference.  However, we can make some inferences from this info about who wants to cut what and where in the defense budget.

The clear difference here is the interest on one side to cut more from programs (that are debatable in terms of success) and the other side to cut more from people, many of which have an obvious need for the health care provided.  Are we really seeing the right coming out in favor of cutting more from the veterans themselves while constantly trying to symbolically honor them at every opportunity instead of cutting questionable programs?  (Well, yes.)

There is little question the future of defense is in more technology and less actual people.  Drones are a perfect example and obviously the advances in technology are moving quickly.  But the question should be asked whether we have reached a point where cuts in veterans’ health care can and should be made now.  Coming off two wars with many physically and psychologically wounded soldiers it seems hard to believe we are there at this point.  This would mean a cut in health care for veterans at a critical time when the economy is weak and the likelihood they can absorb that cut is smaller.  Are our priorities truly in the right place?