US Vietnam vets meet children said to have been disabled by Agent Orange

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A generation after the Vietnam War, a US military veteran whose team once sprayed Agent Orange on the country came face to face with disabled children whose suffering is blamed on the defoliant.

Left: Ralph Steele, who as a helicopter door-gunner took part in a mission spraying the herbicide, shared a laugh with Pham Van Duc, 12, who is mentally disabled and one of 120 children at a rehabilitation centre.

“One of my missions was spraying Agent Orange,” Steele said during a group visit to the Vietnam Friendship Village, 10 kilometres (six miles) west of Hanoi. “Since that day I’ve been asking for forgiveness.”

Steele now works with children in his Santa Fe, New Mexico clinic and is an ordained Buddhist monk.

“The key at this place is joy,” he said, after lifting a laughing Duc onto his shoulders. “You look at these kids for two seconds and, boom, they laugh. I see a lot going on in this place.”…

     

Steele, 55, was in Hanoi for a meeting on the health effects of dioxin, the lethal chemical in Agent Orange, which he said turned south Vietnam’s jungles into “places were you could land a plane.”

Dioxin has been linked to diseases and birth defects including the physical and mental disabilities suffered by many children at the centre, which treats and educates them and teaches skills such as embroidery.

“I can tell you that every kid in this room has dioxin in his body,” said Suel Jones, a Vietnam War-era Marine who now coordinates foreign funding for the centre.

Tests would cost 1,500 dollars per child, money the village needs for its rehabilitation work, he said. “Why spend that money to find out something we already know when we could use it for medical treatment and education?”

 


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