November 23, 2014 / 3:05 AM / 3 years ago

Landmark open meeting on Agent Orange held at Oregon VA hospital

PORTLAND, Ore., Nov 22 (Reuters) - Vietnam War veterans on Saturday called for more research into the health effects of U.S. service members’ exposure to Agent Orange, in a first of its kind open meeting at a VA hospital in Portland, Oregon, on the lingering effects of the chemicals.

The U.S. military during the Vietnam War sprayed millions of gallons of Agent Orange to destroy foliage and expose enemy troops. The herbicide, nicknamed for its giant orange storage drums, was often contaminated with a type of dioxin, a potently carcinogenic chemical.

About 130 veterans attended the meeting at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Portland. It was the first time the VA allowed the nonprofit Vietnam Veterans of America to hold an Agent Orange town hall at one of its hospitals, said Mokie Porter, spokeswoman for the group.

Research has suggested U.S. veterans exposed to Agent Orange are at increased risk of high blood pressure, lymphoma, prostate cancer and other illnesses.

Agent Orange has also been linked to birth defects in children of those exposed to it. The VA provides health care to children of veterans who can link health conditions such as spina bifida to their Agent Orange exposure.

Advocates with Vietnam Veterans of America believe more research would show health consequences go further than what the U.S. government acknowledges. Many veterans are still not aware of the full effects of exposure, Porter said.

At the town hall meeting, U.S. Air Force veteran Jack McManus said he knew a master sergeant who tried to demonstrate the chemical was safe by gargling with it.

“We were told it wasn’t harmful,” said McManus, who traveled from North Carolina to speak at the event. “More research is needed to understand how children and grandchildren might be affected.”

McManus said: “We need to get toxic research bills passed and through the Congress and signed by a president of the United States.” His remarks drew shouts of “you’ve got that right” from veterans in attendance.

Dan Herrigstad, spokesman for the VA in Portland, said he does not know why other hospitals in the United States have not hosted similar events. “It’s part of the mission of the VA. That’s why our director agreed to it,” he said.

The U.S. government in 2012 began working to clean up Agent Orange in Vietnam. (Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and David Gregorio)

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