Vietnam, US still in conflict over Agent Orange

In this photo taken on Oct. 4, 2009, Vietnamese siblings, from left, Tran van Hoang, Tran Van Lam, Tran Van Luan and Tran Thi Luy, sit on the front porch of their family home in the village of Cam Tuyen, Vietnam. The siblings were born with profound physical and mental disabilities that the family, and local officials say, were caused by their parents' exposure to the chemical dioxin in the defoliant Agent Orang

CAM TUYEN, Vietnam—Her children are 21 and 16 years old, but they still cry through the night, tossing and turning in pain, sucking their thumbs for comfort.

Tran Thi Gai, who rarely gets any sleep herself, sings them a mournful lullaby. “Can you feel my love for you? Can you feel my sorrow for you? Please don’t cry.”

Gai’s children—both with twisted limbs and confined to wheelchairs—were born in a village that was drenched with Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. She believes their health problems were caused by dioxin, a highly toxic chemical in the herbicide, which U.S. troops used to strip communist forces of ground cover and food.

Thirty-five years after the end of the Vietnam War, its most contentious remaining legacy is Agent Orange. Eighty-two percent of Vietnamese surveyed in a recent Associated Press-GfK Poll said the United States should be doing more to help people suffering from illnesses associated with the herbicide, including children born with birth defects.

After President George W. Bush pledged to work on the issue on a Hanoi visit in 2006, the U.S. Congress has approved $9 million mostly to address environmental cleanup of Agent Orange. But while the U.S. has provided assistance to Vietnamese with disabilities—regardless of their cause—it maintains that there is no clear link between Agent Orange and health problems.

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