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INVISIBLE SOLDIERS

 

AGENT ORANGE

 

A HISTORY OF DECEPTION

 

New Zealand Vietnam Veterans and

the McLeod Report

 

 

 

 

 

By

 

LACHLAN IRVINE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lachlan Irvine is a doctoral student at the Australian National University, and is completing a PhD. thesis entitled An Australian Odyssey: The Long Journey Home for Vietnam Veterans.

He is a former National Secretary of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia, and has held many other positions in the Australian veteran community. He is currently a pensions officer with the Vietnam Veterans Federation of Australia. He served as an infantry soldier with the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) in Vietnam in 1967-68.

Lachlan Irvine wishes to thank the New Zealand government for the opportunity to provide a submission to its inquiry into the health effects of Agent Orange and other defoliant chemicals on New Zealanders. His infantry battalion worked as a team with 161 Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery in Vietnam, and respected them as professional soldiers. He offers this submission in the spirit of the ANZAC alliance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

Recent history suggests that United States Senate minority leader Tom Daschle was on the right track when he described the Agent Orange issue as an example of Nietszches theory of eternal recurrence. Speaking in 1988, Senator Daschle said:

An Agent Orange history scholar would undoubtedly find a remarkable resemblance between past and present Agent Orange-related stories and events. The Government has historically claimed that there is not enough scientific evidence suggestive of a link between exposure to Agent Orange and diseases suffered by Vietnam veterans to justify compensation for those veterans. The Government continues to repeat that claim in spite of the numerous scientific studies that suggest such a link or, at the very least, cast reasonable doubt on the situation.

It is more than thirty years since it became apparent that the herbicides and pesticides used by American forces in the Vietnam War may be harmful to human health. In that time, this issue, commonly known as the Agent Orange controversy, has been a shameful saga of deception, aimed at concealing information from Vietnam veterans and their families.

Due to persistent digging by Vietnam veterans and others, some information has been uncovered over the past three decades. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs now accepts a link between the following illnesses and the herbicide known as Agent Orange:

Illnesses in veterans:

Chloracne;

Hodgkins disease;

multiple myeloma;

non-Hodgkins lymphoma;

porphyria cutanea tarda;

respiratory cancers (lung, bronchus, larynx and trachea);

soft-tissue sarcoma;

acute and subacute peripheral neuropathy;

prostate cancer;

adult-onset diabetes;

chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Birth defects in children of male veterans:

spina bifida.

Birth defects in children of female veterans:

all birth defects that are not caused by:

Familial disorder;

Birth-related injury;

Fetal or neonatal infirmity with well-established causes.

The Australian Department of Veterans Affairs, while not accepting a link with Agent Orange, gives the benefit of the doubt to the veteran on a case-by-case basis. It also provides treatment for any Vietnam veteran with cancer. While not accepting a link between birth defects and Agent Orange, the DVA, in a partnership with the Department of Heath and Ageing, provides treatment to children of Vietnam veterans born with cleft lip or palate, spina bifida, acute myeloid leukemia, and adrenal gland cancer.

As an example of the recurring history of deception over Agent Orange, when questions were first asked in the Australian parliament in 1979 and 1980, the answers given by government ministers were evasive, misleading, and later proved to be untrue. Subsequently, a Royal Commission into the Agent Orange issue was held in Sydney in 1983-85. The Royal Commissioner, Justice Philip Evatt, chose to disregard evidence presented by independent scientists, and relied instead on the evidence of scientists who were paid employees of the Monsanto chemical company, a manufacturer of Agent Orange. Monsanto, in fact, wrote a substantial amount of the Royal Commissions final report. Evatt simply changed the words "Monsanto submits " to "The Royal Commission concludes ". In 1990, in the case of Kemner Vs. Monsanto, a United States court found that those same Monsanto scientists who had so impressed Justice Evatt had been systematically fabricating test results and giving false evidence for decades. The final report of the Evatt Royal Commission has not been altered in the light of this new evidence, though it has been so widely criticized that it has never had any credibility.

In the United States, some of the most important studies into the link between Agent Orange and the health of Vietnam veterans and their offspring have been conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (the CDC studies) and the United States Air Force (the Ranch Hand studies). In 1989, and again in 2000, United States congressional inquiries found that there had been extensive and widespread falsification of data, misrepresentation of results, and political interference in both the CDC and the Ranch hand studies.

Sadly, the latest chapter in the recurring history of deception is being played out at the present time in New Zealand. The New Zealand Government commissioned a report into the health of the children of New Zealands Vietnam veterans, with the apparent intention to bring the services available to New Zealand veterans up to the standards already in place in Australia and the United States. The result was Health Outcomes for the Children of Vietnam Veterans, otherwise known as the McLeod Report. Far from bringing New Zealand services up to date, the McLeod Report takes a giant leap backwards by denying the link between Vietnam service and birth defects.

I will demonstrate that the McLeod Reports findings are based on errors of fact, misrepresentation of study results, and failure to disclose important information. In Part One of this paper, I will prove conclusively that one of the central premises of the McLeod Report, that Anzac forces in Vietnam generally served in Phuoc Tuy Province, where (according to the McLeod Report) there was no aerial spraying of herbicides, is false. My case will be entirely based on documentary evidence that was available to the authors of the McLeod Report. In Part Two, I will demonstrate that the McLeod Report has used a model for proving exposure to herbicides that is more than a decade out of date, and was never credible to begin with. I will provide more up to date information on exposure, based on sources that were available to the authors of the McLeod Report. In Part Three, I will demonstrate that the McLeod Report has misrepresented the results of a number of studies into the connection between herbicides and pesticides and birth defects. It has also failed to disclose the fact that its own interpretation of the studies is out of step with a significant body of scientific opinion. Eminent scientists have looked at the very same studies as the McLeod Report, and cited them as evidence for, not against, a link between herbicides and pesticides and birth defects. In addition, the McLeod Report has failed to disclose important information about misconduct in relation to some of the most prominent studies. Again, I will only use evidence that was available to the authors of the McLeod Report.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. The McLeod Report: False Central Premise

The credibility of the McLeod Report rests largely on one key sentence:

The information available to the authors was that ANZAC Forces generally served in Phuoc Tuy province, where there was no aerial spraying.

The purpose of this assertion is to create the impression that it is unlikely that Anzac forces were exposed to herbicides sprayed from the air by the United States Air Force, in its herbicide spraying programme known as Operation Ranch Hand. The McLeod Report offers no substantiation of its claim. There is no footnote. No information source is cited. The reason is simple: there is no information source that could possibly back up the claim that Anzac forces generally served in Phuoc Tuy Province, or that there was no aerial spraying in Phuoc Tuy Province.

To prove that this assertion is false, I will rely entirely on documentary evidence that was available to the authors of the McLeod Report.

1.1. Where Anzac Forces Served

The McLeod Report does not assert that Anzac Forces only served in Phuoc Tuy Province, but that they generally served in Phuoc Tuy Province. This suggests that service outside Phuoc Tuy Province was unusual: in other words, not general. This assertion is allegedly based on information available to the authors of the McLeod Report.

1.1.1. Initial deployment to Bien Hoa, not Phuoc Tuy

New Zealands longest-serving combat unit in Vietnam was 161 Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery. The battery served in Vietnam from June 1965 until May 1971. The batterys unit history, Vietnam Gunners, was certainly available to the authors of the McLeod Report. It is listed in the catalogue of the University of Otago Library. The history lists all of the batterys Vietnam deployments. It shows that 161 Battery spent its entire first year in Vietnam, 1965-66, based in Bien Hoa Province. The Australian Task Force base at Nui Dat, in Phuoc Tuy Province, was not established until June 1966. The first deployment of Australian and New Zealand combat units to the Vietnam War was to Bien Hoa Province. They were attached to the United States 173rd Airborne Brigade. There is no doubt whatsoever that this information was available to the authors of the McLeod Report. Did that first contingent of Anzac forces in 1965-66 "generally" serve in Phuoc Tuy Province? Of course not - the suggestion is ludicrous. Yet that suggestion has been made in the McLeod Report.

 

1.1.2. Largest Anzac battle was outside Phuoc Tuy

The largest battle fought by Australian and New Zealand forces in Vietnam took place in May and June 1968, at Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral. Coral was in Bien Hoa Province, and Balmoral was in Binh Duong Province.

1.1.3. New Zealanders frequently deployed outside Phuoc Tuy

All of the deployments of 161 Battery are listed on the following page. In their first four years in Vietnam, from June 1965 until June 1969, the battery deployed more often outside Phuoc Tuy Province than inside it. It was not until its last 18 months, in 1970-71, that the battery operated exclusively in Phuoc Tuy. My own battalion, the Third Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) was supported by 161 Battery. In 1967-68 the battalion spent 115 days outside Phuoc Tuy Province. That is nearly one day out of every three. Wherever we went, New Zealanders of 161 Battery went with us. We did not "generally" serve in Phuoc Tuy Province. It was just as "general" for us to serve in Bien Hoa, Binh Duong or Long Khanh as Phuoc Tuy.

1.1.4. McLeod claim dishonest and misleading

The information available to the authors of the McLeod Report was that Anzac Forces generally served in Phuoc Tuy, Long Khanh, Bien Hoa, Binh Duong, Gia Dinh and Hua Nghia Provinces. To claim otherwise would be dishonest, deceptive and misleading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

161 Battery, RNZA: Deployments in South Vietnam, 1965-71

Deployments outside Phuoc Tuy Province are marked with a dot.

1965-66

  • 15 Jul Bien Hoa.
  • 18 Aug 6 km n of Bien Hoa.
  • 27 Aug 2.5 km n of Bien Hoa.
  • 3 Sep N of Catholic village on Hwy One.
  • 4-16 Sep Ben Cat.
  • 16-18 Sep 2 km nw of Ben Cat.
  • 18-23 Sep 10 km n of Ben Cat.
  • 23-27 Sep Ap Baw Bang, Hwy 13.
  • 27-28 Sep Lai Khe.
  • 8-14 Oct 6 km s of Ben Cat.
  • 21-25 Nov Vo Dat.
  • 25-29 Nov 6 km NE of Vo Dat at Chinh Duc.
  • 29 Nov-13 Dec Vo Xu.
  • 13-22 Dec Vo Dat.
  • 1-7 Jan 40 kms NW of Saigon at Bao Trai.
  • 7-14 Jan Hobo Woods.
  • 29-30 Jan Tan Uyen.
  • 4 Feb GS 0021.
  • 12-16 Feb Zone D.
  • 19-23 Feb Ben Cat.
  • 23-26 Feb GS 8336.

30 Mar-2 Apr May Tao Secret Zone.

2-8 Apr Binh Ba.

  • 12-13 Apr Song Be.
  • 13-15 Apr 15 km NE of Song Be at Dakkir.
  • 16 Apr 15 kms south of Dakkir.
  • 17 Apr Song Be.
  • 18 Apr Thuan Hoa.
  • 19-22 Apr GS 2896.

23 May5 Jun 3 km N of Baria.

5 Jun Nui Dat.

1966-67

16-18 Jul w of Nui Dinhs.

25-29 Jul 3 km SW of Nui Dat.

8-24 Sep French fort.

3-6 Nov 3 km SW of Nui Dat.

18 Nov 3 km SW of Nui Dat.

19-25 Nov Long Tan.

25-27 Nov Xuyen Moc.

27 Nov-1 Dec 5 km NW of Xuyen Moc.

1-3 Dec Xuyen Moc.

1-8 Feb FSB Lance.

22-24 Mar Horseshoe.

27 Apr FSB Weir.

28 Apr-21 Jun Horseshoe.

1967-68

8-15 Jul FSB Tom.

6-9 Aug Ap Suoi Nghe.

5-19 Sep FSB Allanbroke.

16 Dec FSB Charlie.

10-11 Jan FSB 2.

11-21 Jan FSB Berryman.

  • 11-13 Feb FSB Harrison.
  • 13 Feb1 Mar FSB Andersen.

5-17 Mar Horseshoe.

17 Mar6 April FSB Herring.

21-23 Apr FSB Thornton.

  • 23-25 Apr FSB Dyke.
  • 25 Apr3 May FSB Evans.
  • 10-12 May FSB Andersen.
  • 12-13 May FSB Coral.
  • 13-24 May FSB Coogee.
  • 24 May6 Jun FSB Coral.

1968-69

  • 3-18 Jul FSB Kiama.
  • 18-21 Jul FSB Hawk.

2-9 Aug FSB Coolah.

9-13 Aug FSB Avenger.

16-27 Aug Horseshoe.

28 Aug5 Sep FSB Longreach.

  • 28 Sep12 Oct FSB Cedar.
  • 12-22 Oct FSB Bass.

22-26 Oct FSB Wilton.

27 Oct2 Nov (part) FSB Nelson.

5-8 Dec Horseshoe.

12-24 Dec FSB Avenger.

  • 31 Dec (part) FSB Diggers Rest.
  • 1-29 Jan FSB Diggers Rest.
  • 29 Jan17 Feb FSB Jenny.
  • 17 Feb10 Mar FSB Kerry.
  • 5-8 Mar (part) FSB Maria.

19-20 Mar (part) H/S.

  • 24-27 Mar FSB Betty.
  • 27 Mar2 Apr FSB Jillian.
  • 2-11 Apr FSB Wattle.
  • 7-8 Apr (part) FSB Tasman.
  • 11-16 Apr FSB Juanita.

16-23 Apr FSB Mardi.

30 Apr2 May (part) H/S.

8-11 May H/S.

11 May15 Jun FSB Thrust.

7-14 Jun (part) H/S, (part) Duc Tanh.

26 Jun2 Jul (part) FSB Longreach.

29 Jun13 Jul (part) FSB Flinders.

1969-70

2-18 Jul (part) FSB Flinders.

13-19 Jul (part) FSB Buffalo.

18-31 Jul (part) FSB Dampier.

19-31 Jul (part) FSB Dampier.

15-31 Aug FSB Serle.

24-31 Aug (part) FSB Janet.

31 Aug10 Sep FSB Wells.

10-15 Sep FSB Wilton.

  • 29 Sep1 Nov FSB Diggers Rest.

1 Nov5 Dec (part) H/S.

9-11 Dec (part) Duc Tanh.

11 Dec 10 Jan FSB Peggy.

10 Jan13 Feb (part) H/S.

16 Feb11 Mar FSB Pat.

3-22 Mar (part) FSB Discovery.

11-24 Mar (part) FSB Discovery.

22 Mar4 Apr (part) H/S.

4-17 Apr (part) H/S.

20-26 Apr FSB Bond.

27-30 Apr FSB Le Loi.

30 Apr7 May (part) H/S.

4-7 May (part) H/S.

7 May7 Jun FSB Le Loi.

30 May7 Jun (part) FSB Kylie.

6-29 Jun (part) FSB Le Loi.

7-14 Jun (part) FSB Kylie.

14-20 Jun (part) FSB Le Loi.

20-21 Jun (part) FSB Bridget.

21 Jun1 Jul (part) FSB Le Loi.

29-30 Jun (part) FSB Kylie.

1970-71

1-14 Jul (part) FSB Le Loi.

1-12 Jul (part) FSB Kylie.

21-31 Aug (part) FSB Bridget.

22-30 Sep FSB Bridget.

6-13 Oct FSB Allison.

14-21 Oct FSB Bruiser.

22 Oct FSB Le Loi.

26 Oct7 Nov (part) FSB Longreach.

27 Nov2 Dec FSB Cook.

3-9 Dec FSB Le Loi.

9-13 Dec FSB Feathers.

19 Dec2 Jan FSB Raglan.

2-28 Jan FSB Bruiser.

31 Jan21 Feb (part) FSB Lynx.

1 Feb10 Mar (part) H/S.

10 Mar23 Apr (part) H/S.

21-29 Mar (part) FSB Toby.

29 Mar7 Apr (part) FSB Beth.

8 May Return to New Zealand.

Note: part means less than the whole battery. H/S means the Horseshoe.

 

1.2. Aerial Spraying in Phuoc Tuy Province

Now we come to the extraordinary assertion that there was no aerial spraying in Phuoc Tuy Province. This is clearly nonsense. Evidence that it is nonsense was certainly available to the authors of the McLeod Report.

1.2.1. Defoliation Programme started in Phuoc Tuy

Phuoc Tuy Province has a unique place in the history of the Operation Ranch Hand aerial spraying programme. Phuoc Tuy Province was chosen as the location of the very first Ranch Hand missions, carried out in January 1962. Ranch Hand historian William Buckingham reports:

Ranch Hand pilots flew familiarization flights over the target areas along Route 15 on January 10 and 11 to determine specific checkpoints for precision in turning the spray on and off so as to avoid inadvertently spraying crops. The first defoliant was actually released from an Air Force C-123 during one of these flights on January 10.

In the days following that first test flight, several more missions were flown over Phuoc Tuy Province, accompanied by leaflet drops and voice broadcasts from the air over the provincial capital, Baria. The map on the following page shows the location of those early Ranch Hand flights over Phuoc Tuy Province.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.2.2. First USAF casualties were in Phuoc Tuy Province

The following month, February 1962, Phuoc Tuy Province wrote itself into Ranch Hand history again, when the crew of a Ranch Hand flight became the U.S. Air Forces first fatal casualties of the Vietnam War. They crashed near Route 15 on a flight between Vung Tau and Bien Hoa.

1.2.3. Escalation of Ranch Hand started in Phuoc Tuy

Later, in 1965-66, in another important event in the history of Operation Ranch Hand, defoliation projects in Kien Hoa and Phuoc Tuy Provinces consumed 130,450 gallons of herbicide. These were the largest herbicide spraying projects conducted so far. They signalled the beginning of the escalation of Operation Ranch Hand from experimentation to a full-scale herbicide-spraying programme. The head of the Scientific Advisory Group of the Commander in Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC) reported that "the Phuoc Tuy project began on 18 December 1965 and ran through January 1966 with 60,000 gallons of defoliant delivered." Phuoc Tuy Province is so closely bound up with the history of Operation Ranch Hand that the suggestion that the province was not sprayed is laughable. Yet that claim is made in the McLeod Report.

1.3. Most spraying where Anzac Forces operated

During the Vietnam War, American commanders divided South Vietnam into four military command zones. They became known as I Corps, II Corps, III Corps, and IV Corps Tactical Zones. Australian and New Zealand units operated exclusively in III Corps. The following map shows the extent of herbicide spraying in the four zones. On this map, Phuoc Tuy Province is directly above the letter "R" in "Rung Sat". Operation Ranch Hand records show that III Corps received a greater volume of Agent Orange than the other three zones combined. The figures for Agent Orange are: I Corps, 2,014,630 gallons; II Corps, 2,715,210 gallons; III Corps, 5,685,409 gallons; IV Corps, 806,615 gallons. The most heavily sprayed part of South Vietnam was the Rung Sat special zone, a vast expanse of mangrove swamps, which forms the western boundary of Phuoc Tuy Province.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.4. Amount of herbicide sprayed in Phuoc Tuy

Phuoc Tuy Province was sprayed from the air with 202,910 gallons of Agent Orange, 156,750 gallons of Agent White and 2,700 gallons of Agent Blue, in 113 aerial spraying missions. This does not include Vung Tau. Vung Tau was the site of the Australian logistical support base. Operation Ranch Hand lists Vung Tau separately, and records that it received 7,350 gallons of Agent Orange. This information comes from official United States Department of Defense documents, and was freely available to the authors of the McLeod Report.

1.5. Herbicide sprayed from other sources

In addition to the aerial spraying from Operation Ranch Hand, Australian and New Zealand forces were exposed to herbicide and pesticide spraying from helicopters, river boats, trucks, and back-pack sprays. The amount of herbicide sprayed using these methods is unknown. Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Vietnam in 1968-70, states: "I was aware that Agent Orange issued to Allied Forces was frequently used on unrecorded missions." The McLeod Report concedes that there was exposure to other sources of herbicides, but the wording is interesting:

Service personnel were also potentially exposed to weed killers around the bases to control grasses and shrubs .

While it is attempting to deny that ANZAC forces were exposed to herbicides sprayed from the air, the McLeod Report is happy to use the term "Agent Orange" or "herbicides". When it refers to herbicides sprayed around the perimeters of base camps and fire support bases, which it cannot possibly deny, suddenly the terminology changes to "weed killers". This conveys an image of chemicals as harmless as the sprays we use on our gardens. In fact, the herbicides sprayed around perimeters were the same as those sprayed from the air.

1.5.1. Use of term "weed killers" as propaganda

There is a precedent for this devious use of the term "weed killers". In November 1961, United States Secretary of State Dean Rusk wrote a top-secret note to President John F. Kennedy, on the use of defoliants in Vietnam. The Deputy Under-Secretary for Political Affairs, U. Alexis Johnson, could see how politically sensitive the introduction of a herbicide programme in Vietnam could be. Johnson added the following words to the note:

We must also stay away from the term 'chemical warfare' and any connection with the Chemical Corps, and rather talk about 'weed killers'.

Forty years later, the McLeod Report uses the same propaganda technique.

1.6. Province by province herbicide figures

The table on the following page lists the amount of herbicides Orange, Blue and White sprayed in South Vietnam by Operation Ranch Hand. The figures are divided into provinces. The six provinces of the III Corps zone in which Australians and New Zealanders operated are highlighted. They show that three million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed in those six provinces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.6.1. Herbicide Missions in South Vietnam

By Military Region, Province, number and dates of missions, and gallons.

Orange Blue White

I Corps

Quang Tri 311 missions, 1966-70 515,615 2,579 111,410

Thua Thien 457 1966-70 753,335 78,367 186,751

Quang Nam 178 1966-70 352,945 19,450 63,200

Quang Tin 146 1966-70 173,275 44,770 50,470

Quang Ngai 197 1966-70 219,460 86,737 40,770

Total I Corps 1289 2,014,630 231,903 452,601

II Corps

Kontum 380 1965-70 910,415 74,700 131,340

Binh Dinh 441 1965-71 497,952 97,342 64,711

Pleiku 218 1965-70 197,585 14,190 191,363

Phu Bon 20 1965-70 12,300 10,900 21,600

Phu Yen 207 1965-70 207,707 58,120 19,831

Dar Lac 69 1967-70 217,900 23,119 33,590

Khanh Hoa 272 1965-70 132,596 45,591 77,215

Ninh Thuan 65 1966-71 104,815 33,100 2,075

Tuyen Duc 7 1968-70 485 4,540 0

Quang Duc 124 1967-70 277,575 12,500 135,400

Lam Dong 38 1967-70 32,400 49,735 2,890

Binh Thuan 73 1966-70 119,565 14,420 47,910

Cam Ranh 31 1968-70 3,915 0 1,320

Total II Corps 1945 2,715,210 438,157 733,245

III Corps

Binh Tuy 139 1966-70 294,360 33,500 86,640

Long Khanh 480 1965-70 983,562 16,745 612,356

Phuoc Long 695 1965-70 1 ,607,235 56,450 1,143,565

Binh Long 103 1965-69 139,740 0 209,735

Binh Duong 246 1965-70 395,835 40,510 373,973

Tay Ninh 367 1965-71 511,740 74,495 476,849

Hua Nghia 54 1965-70 483,215 10,345 51,273

Bien Hoa 237 1965-70 425,037 8,950 386,985

Phuoc Tuy 113 1965-70 202,910 2,700 156,750

Long An 32 1965-70 109,090 0 28,300

Gia Dinh 229 1966-70 532,685 43,400 225,485

Total III Corps 2695 5,685,409 287,095 3,751,911

IV Corps

Go Cong 4 1968-69 6,000 0 3,095

Kien Tuong 28 1967-69 59,020 11,300 54,260

Kien Phuong 19 1967-70 13,760 990 4,895

Dinh Tuong 31 1968-70 8,720 965 7,316

Kien Hoa 84 1965-70 225,390 0 56,070

Vinh Binh 61 1966-70 174,595 5,000 17,360

Vinh Long 36 1968-69 5,490 1,180 12,735

Kien Giang 36 1966-71 30,895 0 21,190

Chuong Thien 16 1966-71 23,220 0 2,225

Phong Dinh 55 1965-70 30,775 12,700 15,722

Ba Xuyen 31 1966-70 27,820 1,280 3,546

An Xuyen 162 1966-71 74,240 0 106,760

Bac Lieu 43 1966-69 126,690 6,000 31,638

Total IV Corps 606 806,615 39,415 336,812

 

1.7. N.Z. Government knows Phuoc Tuy was sprayed

In June 2003, the New Zealand Minister for Defence, Mark Burton, gave the following answer to a question from Richard Worth MP, regarding the amount of herbicide sprayed in Phuoc Tuy Province during the Vietnam War:

I am advised that between 1965 and 1971 a total of 487,000 US gallons (1,843,295 litres) of herbicide was sprayed on Phuoc Tuy Province from aircraft as part of Operation Ranch Hand, the Allied defoliation programme. In addition, a much smaller, but unknown amount of herbicide was sprayed from aircraft as part of crop destruction missions requested by the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) between 1966 and 1970. Ground spraying of herbicides was also undertaken in Phuoc Tuy Province by 1ATF, which included the New Zealand Armed Forces units operating in the province, as part of perimeter clearance tasks. The exact amount of herbicide used in these tasks is not clear, but between 1966 and 1970 23,350 lbs. (10,592 kg.) and 7425 gallons (33,754 litres) were sent from Australia to 1ATF. In addition, some locally procured herbicides may have been used for these tasks.

The question was prompted by concern among the veteran community in New Zealand about false assertions in the McLeod Report. The answer makes it clear that the New Zealand Government knew that Phuoc Tuy Province had been sprayed, which makes the denial of such well-known facts in the McLeod Report especially bewildering.

1.8. McLeod Report must know Phuoc Tuy was sprayed

The authors of the McLeod Report claim to have conducted an extensive Internet search, entering certain keywords into multiple search engines. Such a search could not possibly fail to provide them with evidence that Phuoc Tuy Province was sprayed in the Operation Ranch Hand programme. It follows logically therefore, that their claim to have information that the province was not sprayed can only be false.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Exposure

The McLeod Report makes a number of assertions about the extent to which Australian and New Zealand troops may have been exposed to herbicide spraying. Without exception these assertions are unsubstantiated and can be shown to have no credibility. In at least one case, an assertion appears to have been nothing more than a fabrication by the authors of the McLeod Report.

2.1. False exposure model

The McLeod Report claims that there is "only one recorded case where ANZAC troops were in an area where they could have been exposed to aerial spraying". The authority for this claim is given as the Advisory Committee on the Health of Veterans Children 1999. This is a New Zealand government-sponsored report, which undertook no primary source research whatsoever. It does not cite any source for this exposure claim. So the Advisory Committee has made an unsubstantiated claim, which can, at best, be only be based on secondary source material, and the McLeod Report has recycled that unsubstantiated claim. This could be the beginning of a dangerous cycle in which a series of government-sponsored reports simply cite each other, while no actual research is ever done. This cycle must be stopped.

My own original research has provided documentary evidence that most, if not all, ANZAC troops were in areas where they could have been exposed to aerial spraying.

The McLeod Report gives no explanation of the exposure model involved in this unsubstantiated claim. It appears, however, that the authors of the McLeod Report expect Australian and New Zealand Vietnam veterans to be able to place themselves directly under a herbicide flight in order to prove exposure. This exposure model is ludicrous.

2.1.1. United States exposure model

Because it accepts a link between Agent Orange and health effects, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs has put considerable effort into developing an exposure model. In 1989, the United States Secretary for Veterans Affairs, Ed Derwinski, commissioned Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Junior to produce a report on the association between adverse health effects and exposure to Agent Orange. Admiral Zumwalt reported on the 5th of May, 1990. Extraordinary though it may seem, the McLeod Report, reporting more than eleven years later, does not cite the Zumwalt Report in its research. In fact, it makes no mention of the Zumwalt Report whatsoever.

Admiral Zumwalt made two recommendations on exposure. The first suggests that the veteran should have been "within 20 kilometers and 30 days of a known sprayed area", or "at fire base perimeters or brown water operations where there is reason to believe Agent Orange spraying has occurred." Admiral Zumwalt had serious doubts about even this generous exposure model:

Under this alternative compensation would not be provided for those veterans whose exposure came from TCDD by way of the food chain; silt runoff from sprayed areas into unsprayed waterways; some unrecorded US or allied Agent Orange sprayings; inaccurately recorded sprayings; or sprayings whose wind drift was greater than 20 kilometers."

As a result of his concerns, Admiral Zumwalt offered a second exposure model:

Any Vietnam veteran or child of a Vietnam veteran who experiences a TCDD-like health effect shall be presumed to have a service-connected disability. This alternative is admittedly broader than the first, and would provide benefits for some veterans who were not exposed to Agent Orange and whose disabilities are not presumably truly service-connected. Nevertheless, it is the only alternative that will not unfairly preclude receipt of benefits by a TCDD exposed Vietnam veterans.

To summarize, Admiral Zumwalts recommended exposure models were: first, a veteran should have been within 20 kilometres and 30 days of a sprayed area; second, if the veteran or child of a veteran has a dioxin-related illness, proof of Vietnam service is proof of exposure. These options were presented to Secretary Derwinski. He chose the second, more generous option. As a result, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs now accepts as its exposure model that proof of Vietnam service is proof of exposure.

The United States exposure model is clearly relevant to the Australian and New Zealand Vietnam experience. It is scarcely conceivable that the authors of the McLeod Report failed to take the trouble to access the US DVA web site or any of its Agent Orange publications. Even to raise the subject of exposure without informing its readers of the model in use in the US raises serious questions about the integrity of the McLeod Report.

2.2. Unsubstantiated exposure claim

The McLeod Report claims that the exposure levels of the United States Air Force personnel who served on Operation Ranch Hand were "likely to be in the order of 1000 times the exposure of Australian and New Zealand veterans." No substantiation is given for this claim. This is a complete fabrication. No study has ever compared the levels of exposure of Ranch Hand veterans and Australian and New Zealand veterans. If the authors of the McLeod Report believe such a study exists, then let them cite it. Otherwise, it can only be assumed that this is a figure they have simply invented.

2.3. Dioxin levels in Agent Orange

The McLeod Report states that Agent Orange was "frequently contaminated by small amounts of dioxin." No substantiation is offered for any part of this assertion. No explanation is given for the claim that Agent Orange was "frequently", as opposed to "always", contaminated by dioxin, and no explanation is given for the claim that the dioxin contamination consisted of "small amounts."

A study published in the leading scientific journal Nature has analysed the amount of herbicide sprayed during the Vietnam War. It finds that the amount of herbicide sprayed has been underestimated by more than seven million litres, "in particular with heavily dioxin-contaminated herbicides." It also finds that the amount of dioxin sprayed during the war is almost double previous estimates.

For many years it has been assumed that the mean level of dioxin in Agent Orange was 3 parts per million. This assumption appears to have been based merely on an estimate, rather than a scientific measurement. The authors of the Nature article subjected this assumption to scientific analysis for the first time, and found it to be extremely low. The article finds that an average value "closer to 13 p.p.m. may be more realistic." This makes a mockery of the McLeod Reports estimation of dioxin levels in Agent Orange as "small amounts."

 

2.4. Indirect exposure

Evidence has recently emerged to prove that, as Vietnam veterans have always suspected, indirect exposure to herbicides and pesticides in Vietnam is as relevant an issue as direct exposure. A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found a marked elevation of dioxin in blood samples taken from residents of the Vietnamese city of Bien Hoa, more than thirty years after the last herbicide flight. Bien Hoa is the capital city of Bien Hoa Province, in which Anzac forces frequently operated. It was the site of the base camp for the first contingent of Anzac forces in 1965-66.

The title of the study is "Recent Dioxin Contamination from Agent Orange in Residents of a Southern Vietnam City." Its authors are an international team of eight, led by the American, Arnold Schecter.

The authors of the study are careful to emphasize that it is only 2,3,7,8-TCDD, the dioxin found in Agent Orange, and not any other type of dioxin, that was found to be elevated in these blood samples.

The dioxin levels are staggering. Comparison samples were taken from residents of North Vietnam, where no herbicides were sprayed during the war. North Vietnamese dioxin levels were found to be 2 parts per trillion. Dioxin levels in the Bien Hoa samples were up to 271 p.p.t., or 135 times the level of the North Vietnamese samples. The average dioxin level of the Bien Hoa residents was 69.65 p.p.t., or 35 times the level of the North Vietnamese comparison group.

Dioxin levels were raised, even in residents new to the area, and in children born as recently as 1988, long after Agent Orange spraying ended. The study found elevated dioxin levels in fish caught in Bien Hung Lake and the Song Dong Nai River, and in soil samples taken from the site of the former Bien Hoa airbase, the early headquarters of Operation Ranch Hand. It is worth repeating that these dioxin levels were found thirty years after the last Agent Orange flight.

These results are backed up by other studies in Vietnam. In a new development, an article entitled "Food as a Source of Dioxin Exposure in the Residents of Bien Hoa City, Vietnam" has appeared in the August 2003 edition of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. This study finds:

Clearly, food, including duck, chicken, some fish, and a toad, appears responsible for elevated TCDD in residents of Bien Hoa City, even though the original Agent Orange contamination occurred 30-40 years before sampling.

These studies provide the clearest proof yet that the dioxin in Agent Orange stays in the environment, pollutes the food chain, and contaminates humans regardless of whether or not they were directly sprayed. Any assessment of exposure that fails to take into account this evidence of indirect exposure can have no credibility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. The Studies

In an interview on Radio New Zealand on the 28th of April 2003, faced with evidence that, despite her claims to the contrary, Phuoc Tuy Province had been sprayed, Doctor McLeod responded:

I think its been blown out of proportion, because I dont think its the issue. I mean, whether veterans were exposed or not isnt really an issue. I mean, the issue is, did that exposure cause them harm. Did that exposure cause the health of their children to be harmed, and there doesnt seem to be any evidence that thats the case.

The question of a link between Vietnam service, or the herbicides and pesticides used in Vietnam, and birth defects in the children of Vietnam veterans, has been the subject of a number of epidemiological studies. They fall into four main categories: studies of the children of Vietnam veterans; studies of the children of agricultural workers who were exposed to herbicides and pesticides; studies of populations accidentally exposed to herbicides and pesticides; and studies of children in Vietnam. The McLeod Report states that its task was to conduct "a comprehensive and critical review of all available international research on the health of Vietnam veterans children." I will demonstrate that the McLeod Reports review of the studies is neither comprehensive nor critical.

3.1. The Agent Orange Scientific Task Force

The Agent Orange Scientific Task Force was assembled in the United States with the same purpose as the McLeod Report: to analyse all relevant health studies and report on the strength of the evidence for or against a link between the herbicides and pesticides used in Vietnam and birth defects. It reported in 1990.

The Task Force concluded that the evidence of a link between herbicides and birth defects is at least as strong as the evidence against such a link:

Following review of the scientific literature, it is concluded that the evidence supporting the existence of a significant statistical association between exposure to phenoxyacetic acid herbicides and/or their associated contaminants (chlorinated dioxins) and reproductive and developmental effects is at least as strong as the evidence of a lack of the association.

 

 

3.1.1. Task Force membership

The members of the Agent Orange Scientific Task Force carry a considerable weight of scientific expertise:

Richard W. Clapp, M.P.H., Sc.D., Director of Environmental Health Studies, JSI Research and Training Institute Inc. Boston MA.;

Barry Commoner, Ph.D., Center for the Biology of Natural Systems, Queens College, CUNY, Flushing, NY.;

John D. Constable, M.D., Associate Clinical Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School, Boston MA.;

Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., Professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of Illinois, Chicago, IL.;

Peter C. Kahn, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biochemistry, Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ.;

James R. Olsen, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, University of Buffalo, Buffalo, NY.;

David M. Ozonoff, M.D., M.P.H., Professor and Chief, Environmental Health Section, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston MA.

3.1.2. McLeod Report membership

The authors of the McLeod Report are:

Deborah McLeod, PhD, DPH;

Donna Cormack, MA;

Tai Kake, BsC (Hons1).

3.2. McLeod Report disagrees with Task Force

The McLeod Reports conclusion is:

that there is no evidence that exposure to chemicals in Vietnam has affected the health of the children of New Zealand Vietnam veterans.

The McLeod Report gives no indication of its reasons for disagreeing with the conclusions of the Agent Orange Scientific Task Force. In fact, the Task Force is not even mentioned, anywhere in the McLeod Report. This is inexplicable. The Internet keyword search the authors of the McLeod Report have carried out would certainly have turned up a copy of the Task Forces report. The authors of the McLeod Report must surely be bound by professional ethics to report that their own conclusion is out of step with such an eminent group of medical scientists.

 

3.3. The studies in the McLeod Report

In the category "all birth defects", there is a discrepancy between what the McLeod Report found in its own research into the studies and what it concludes in that part of the report that is intended for public consumption.

3.3.1. What the McLeod Report says

The McLeod Report concludes that:

The risk estimates calculated for the category all birth defects are remarkably consistent and overall show no increased risk for Vietnam veterans in fathering children, when all birth defects are considered.

 

3.3.2. What the McLeod Report actually found

The table on the following page appears only in the longer version of the McLeod Report. It is buried deep among the technical detail that the general public is not expected to read. The table shows the results of 20 studies. This is supposed to be a list of only those studies that tested for "all birth defects."

The table has a number of flaws. The most glaring is the presence of the Blatter study, which was a study of spina bifida only, and does not belong on a table of studies of "all birth defects." The absence from this table of a number of studies, all of which found an increased risk for all birth defects in the children of Vietnam veterans, is also curious. These inexplicable inclusions and exclusions will be discussed in more detail later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3.3.3. Chart shows opposite of what McLeod Report claims

It is worth repeating what the McLeod Report claims:

The risk estimates calculated for the category all birth defects are remarkably consistent and overall show no increased risk for Vietnam veterans in fathering children, when all birth defects are considered.

The McLeod Reports own chart shows that a clear majority of studies, thirteen out of the twenty listed, show an increased risk for Vietnam veterans of fathering children with birth defects. In the chart, the vertical line is the dividing line between increased and decreased risks of fathering children with birth defects. Increased risk on the right, decreased risk on the left, neutral risk on the line. For the results to be as the McLeod Report claims, showing consistently that there is no increased risk, all of the results must be either to the left of the line or on the line. Clearly this is not true. The only result to the left of the line is the Blatter study, which does not belong on this chart, because it did not test for all birth defects, only for spina bifida. It is not possible for the conclusion of the McLeod Report to be reconciled with the results shown in the chart.

The results are certainly remarkably consistent. They show, however, the opposite of what the McLeod Report claims. They show, with remarkable consistency, that there is an increased risk of birth defects for Vietnam veterans, when all birth defects are considered.

The chart needs a number of corrections. Some studies need to be removed, because they did not test for all birth defects, and therefore have no place in this chart. Some studies need to be added, because there is no excuse for their exclusion from the chart. The figures shown on the chart for the Wolfe study are known to have been falsified. They need to be removed from the chart and the correct figures inserted in their place. When those adjustments are made, every figure on the chart will be to the right of the line or on the line, providing convincing proof that the evidence does not support the conclusions of the McLeod Report.

The chart provides evidence that another assertion made by the McLeod Report is false. The McLeod Report makes the following claim:

The only study of Vietnam veterans to find an excess risk for all birth defects combined was the 1988 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Vietnam Experience study comparing Vietnam veterans and veterans who did not serve in Vietnam.

The chart clearly shows this claim to be false. Moreover, several studies that have inexplicably been excluded from the chart have also found an increased risk for all birth defects among Vietnam veterans.

3.3.4. Chart proves McLeod Report deliberately misleading

The chart provides the clearest evidence yet that the McLeod Report has deliberately set out to mislead. While previous errors and false assertions in the McLeod Report may, on the most generous reading, have been the result of an appalling level of research, no such excuse can be made in this case. The McLeod Reports own chart, which shows that a clear majority of studies have indicated an increased risk, was created by the very same authors who claimed that the studies consistently showed no increased risk.

It is interesting that the chart does not appear in the short version of the McLeod Report: that is, the version that is intended to be read by the New Zealand government, Vietnam veterans and the general public.

3.3.5. Studies wrongly included on McLeod Report chart

As has already been noted, the Blatter study does not belong on the chart. The Blatter study took a group of children born with spina bifida and checked the potential for their fathers to have been exposed to a number of industrial chemicals. It found that the rate of spina bifida increased with the rate of exposure to pesticides. It did not test for all birth defects.

The Erickson study (1984) is included in the McLeod Reports chart for all birth defects. The Erickson study did not test for all birth defects. The Erickson study tested "selected babies with serious structural congenital malformations." In other words, many conditions, which would cause a Vietnam veteran to answer "yes" when asked if any of his children had been born with birth defects, have simply been excluded.

The Erickson study provides a measure of the standard of research in the McLeod Report. Anybody who reads only the summary of the Erickson study would be left with the impression that it was a study of all birth defects. Thorough research of the full Erickson study reveals that it was not. In addition, the Erickson study found that the risk of having a second child born with a birth defect is 2.57 times higher in Vietnam veterans than non-veterans. That information does not appear in the summary of the Erickson study. It can only be found by thorough research. This information does not appear anywhere in the McLeod Report.

3.3.5.1. The Erickson (1984) deception

The Erickson study (1984) introduces another important issue, overlooked by the McLeod Report, namely deception and malpractice in some of the studies, which appear in the McLeod Reports table. In this study, Erickson claimed a result for "all birth defects", despite the fact that he did not test for all birth defects. He found an increased rate of spina bifida in the children of Vietnam veterans, but claimed this result was not important. Finally, he found that Vietnam veterans were 2.57 times more likely than non veterans to have a second child with birth defects, and he did not even report that result. That is a remarkable triple deception in a single study

The Erickson study actually found that the rate of spina bifida increased with the fathers score on an Agent Orange exposure index. In other words, those fathers more likely to have been exposed to Agent Orange had a higher risk of fathering a child with spina bifida. The same applied to cleft lip, with or without cleft palate. Fathers with higher exposure ratings also had higher risks for fathering babies with tumours classified as "other neoplasms," including teratomas, neuroblastomas, hamartomas, dermoid cysts, lipomas, central nervous system tumours, Wilms tumour, and miscellaneous benign tumours.

Here is what the Erickson study reported:

The most important conclusion to be drawn from this study is that the data collected contain no evidence to indicate that Vietnam veterans have had a greater risk than other men for fathering babies with defects when all types of serious structural birth defects are combined.

The McLeod Report makes no comment on the discrepancy between what the Erickson study actually found and what it reported. This is a significant omission.

3.3.5.2. Significance of Erickson spina bifida result

In December 1970, while the Vietnam War was still in progress, and while Australian and New Zealand forces were still engaged, the New York Times printed the following story:

The records of 4,002 abnormal births in Saigon Childrens Hospital from 1959 to 1968 show a sudden rise in two forms of defect after the start of heavy spraying in 1966. These are cleft palate and a spinal deformity known as spina bifida.

The source of the story was Dr. Matthew S. Meselson, Professor of Biology at Harvard University. The Erickson study found an increased rate of the same birth defects in the children of exposed Vietnam veterans, with the rate increasing with the level of exposure. That is what Erickson should have reported as "the most important conclusion to be drawn from this study." Instead, Erickson chose to bury the cleft lip and spina bifida information in the detail of his report. He completely failed to note the similarity with the results of the Meselson study. He failed to report his finding that Vietnam veterans were at a greater risk of fathering a second child with birth defects. He chose to publicize only the finding that there was no increase in all birth defects.

3.3.5.3. Erickson changes his tune when found out

Erickson himself stated at a congressional hearing in 1997 that:

it was interesting that both CDC studies had some potentially suggestive, albeit highly equivocal, findings relative to spina bifida.

This belated acknowledgement by Erickson of the significance of his spina bifida findings came only after congressional inquiries had uncovered serious misconduct involving his studies.

3.3.6. Congressional inquiries into CDC studies

Erickson was still in charge at the CDC when falsification of results and political interference in the CDC studies became the subject of a congressional hearing in the United States House of Representatives on the 11th of July 1989. The Washington Post reported the testimony of statistician Dennis M. Smith, who had worked on the CDC studies, that:

CDC administration changed the design of studies so often and switched variables so frequently that the results were meaningless. Researchers sometimes made up data to fill in gaps in the records, he said, so that at one point people lost track of what was true and what was false.

At the hearing, after questioning Dr. Vernon Houk, Director of the Center for Environmental Health and Injury Control at the CDC, Congressman Weiss commented:

Well, I must say that so far the testimony to me has been shocking. Weve heard that the CDC study was at best flawed, and that the CDC did not know how to use military records or didnt want to use them, that its estimation of the half life of dioxin was based on assumptions which may not be valid and that CDC has downplayed or disregarded highly significant health findings regarding Vietnam veterans. Perhaps worst of all, the documents and the testimony show that it was politicians at the White House, and not CDC scientists, who canceled the study.

Dr. Philip Landrigan, Director of the Division of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, testified:

Its clear that something went very wrong down there in regard to this study whatever the motives. As numerous witnesses have said before me, I believe science was ill-served and I believe the American veterans who served in Vietnam were ill-served by the series of events that took place at CDC

3.3.6.1. Political interference in CDC studies

The "series of events" to which Dr. Landrigan refers include political interference from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), whose officials, possessing no scientific qualifications, "interfered with and second-guessed the professional judgements of agency scientists and multidisciplinary panels of outside peer review experts." The Zumwalt Report found several examples of political interference in the CDC studies. Each of these interventions was aimed at diluting the studies, so that they would be unable to produce any meaningful results. Admiral Zumwalt explained:

This "dilution effect" is considered the classic flaw in epidemiological study design. Most epidemiologists would try to optimize the chances of observing an effect by including, rather than excluding, the subjects who are most likely to have been exposed to the suspected disease causing agent. This statistical ability to observe an effect if one is present is generally referred to as the "statistical power" of a given study.

When the CDC chose to generalize exposure to Agent Orange to groups of veterans who were less likely, rather than more likely, to be exposed, the power of the study was diluted.

It should be noted that there was no party politics in this criticism of political interference. Admiral Zumwalt was reporting to Mr. Ed Derwinski, Secretary for Veterans Affairs in the Republican administration of George Bush Senior. The political interference in the CDC studies came from another Republican administration, that of Ronald Reagan.

3.3.7. Studies wrongly excluded from the chart

Perhaps the most inexplicable exclusion from the McLeod Reports chart is the comprehensive survey of the health of Australian Vietnam veterans and their children, conducted for the Department of Veterans Affairs by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (the AIHW study). This study concluded, "the reported number of abnormalities is considerably above expected for all abnormalities. This is a very disturbing finding."

Also excluded is Michalek, Rahe, et al, (1998). This is a Ranch Hand study, which compared the rate of birth defects among the children of Ranch Hand personnel born before and after their service in Vietnam. The rate in children born after Vietnam service was found to be more than double the rate of those born before Vietnam service.

The study released by Richard Albanese in 1988 compared the rate of all birth defects in Ranch Hand veterans with the comparison group, before and after Vietnam service. Children born to Ranch Hand veterans before they served in Vietnam had 15% fewer birth defects than the children of the comparison group. Children born to Ranch Hand veterans after they served in Vietnam had 39% more birth defects than the comparison group.

3.3.8. Ranch Hand (Wolfe) figures incorrect

The figures quoted by the McLeod Report for the study named in the table as "Wolfe" are not correct As the authors of the McLeod Report must surely know, or could easily have discovered, a United States congressional inquiry heard evidence that those figures had been falsified. The real figure contained in the Wolfe study report is 1.5. That is, a 50% increase in the risk of birth defects in the Ranch Hand veterans compared with the comparison group.

3.3.8.1. Ranch Hand hidden birth defects figures

In 1979, the United States Air Force began a 25-year study of the health of the veterans who had participated in Operation Ranch Hand during the Vietnam War. These were the men who had loaded herbicides onto the aircraft, flown the herbicide missions, and unloaded and cleaned the aircraft after the missions. With only a year to go until the scheduled completion of the Ranch Hand study, approximately two hundred million US dollars have been spent on the project. All funding has been provided by US taxpayers, and allocated by the Congress.

The Ranch Hand study gathered figures on birth defects in 1984. It did not report them until 1992. The following figures appear in the 1992 report, under the heading:

 

Table 1-16

Baseline Counts of Reported Live Births by Reported Defect, Time of Birth Relative to the Fathers Duty in SEA and the Fathers Group Membership

The figures show that, prior to service in Vietnam, the Ranch Hand group suffered 78 birth defects from 1487 live births. That is a rate of 52.4 per 1000 births. The comparison group had 80 birth defects from 1258 births, or 63.6 per 1000 births. The ratio of birth defects between Ranch Hand veterans and the comparison group was 0.815. In other words, the Ranch Hand group had nearly 20% fewer birth defects among children born before Vietnam service.

In children born since Vietnam service, the Ranch Hand group suffered 76 birth defects from 833 births. That is 91.2 per 1000, an increase of 74% compared with those born before Vietnam service. The comparison group suffered 44 birth defects from 682 births. That is 64.5 per 1000, or only a 1% increase compared with pre-Vietnam births.

The ratio of birth defects in the Ranch Hand group compared with the comparison group was 1.456, which rounds up to a 50% increased risk of birth defects for the Ranch Hand group for children born after Vietnam service.

That figure does not appear anywhere in the executive summary of the study. Nor does it appear anywhere in the McLeod Report. This leads to the conclusion that the authors of the McLeod Report, who claim to have conducted a comprehensive and critical analysis, have only read the executive summary, not the whole study.

3.3.8.2. How Ranch Hand study falsified figures

The March 2000 congressional inquiry into the Ranch Hand study heard startling evidence about falsification of figures, and interference by senior Air Force officers in the work of the study. Some of the most serious evidence came from Dr. Richard Albanese, a senior medical researcher in the United States Air Force. Dr. Albanese had been a principal investigator on the Ranch Hand study from 1978 until 1984. He reported to the inquiry that the Ranch Hand study had found a 50% increase in birth defects in the Ranch Hand veterans compared with their control group, but that this figure had been suppressed. The Inquiry chairman asked Dr. Albanese to explain how this was done. Dr. Albanese replied:

Yes, sir. When you compare the Ranch Hand sprayers with their control group, there's a more than 50 percent excess in the group that has sprayed. Now that birth defects excess, using current analytical techniques, does not regress linearly on dioxin. But that group difference exists. I am one of four authors of that protocol. The purpose of this study was to determine whether Agent Orange is associated with problems. There's also a portion in the protocol which says we're concerned about the Vietnam experience. We have sitting on the table a greater than 50 percent increase in the birth defects. And because it doesn't have a linear regression with dioxin, which is not the only dangerous contaminant in Agent Orange, we've ruled it out.

What Dr. Albanese is saying is that, faced with an extraordinarily high and politically sensitive number of birth defects in the Ranch Hand veterans, the Ranch Hand researchers looked for ways to hide this information, in clear breach of the study protocol. They decided to divide the Ranch Hand veterans into three sub-groups, according to the level of dioxin in their blood. The study protocol, passed by Congress in order to allocate funding to the study, and therefore a legal document, gave them no authority to do this.

In a further breach of the study protocol, the study leaders dispersed the birth defects statistics from the Ranch Hand group into the three subgroups. Each subgroup was compared with the total number of birth defects in the comparison group. The comparison group was not subdivided.

The greatest number of birth defects was found in the medium category. This is what Dr. Albanese meant when he referred to a linear regression. A linear regression to dioxin, according to the Ranch Hand researchers, could only be demonstrated if the highest number of birth defects was found in the sub-group with the highest dioxin level.

The study leaders used this lack of a linear regression, obtained by breaching the study protocol, as a reason to change their method of reporting. Instead of reporting their findings on birth defect numbers, they now only reported the link between dioxin levels and birth defects. They were able to report that there was no significant dioxin-related increase in the birth defect rate in the Ranch Hand group. Thus a 50% increase in the rate of birth defects was effectively hidden.

Dr. Albanese was one of the authors of the protocols for the Ranch Hand Study. He testified that to fail to report an increase in birth defects simply because it did not have a linear regression with dioxin was strictly against the protocol. This was a clear case of falsification of the results of the Ranch Hand study.

3.3.8.3. High birth defects rate "beyond reasonable doubt"

Dr. Albanese was asked to comment on the level of confidence that could be placed in the increased birth defects rate found in the Ranch Hand veterans. He told the inquiry:

I think it's beyond a reasonable doubt that there is a birth defects excess in the Ranch Hand group. I think the preponderance of the evidence is that there has been an excess of cancer. I think it's beyond a reasonable doubt that there are some neurological effects. And I think there's a preponderance of the evidence that there are endocrinological effects in the Ranch Hand group.

The choice of words is important. The chairman of the subcommittee was looking for guidance regarding the level of proof that should be sufficient for the Department of Veterans Affairs to be satisfied that it should provide benefits to veterans or their children for Agent Orange related illnesses. Dr. Albanese replied by stating the results of the Ranch Hand study in terms of the highest possible level of proof, "beyond reasonable doubt."

The McLeod Report sums up the Ranch Hand study results as follows:

The authors concluded that the results provide no definitive evidence that paternal dioxin exposure causes birth defects or any of the other adverse reproductive outcomes studied.

This is an outrageously misleading conclusion to draw from a study that clearly found an extraordinarily high level of birth defects in the children of the Ranch Hand veterans. The Agent Orange Scientific Task Force found:

a statistically significant increase in reported birth defects in the Ranch Hand group. Defects reported in the Ranch Hand group included skin defects, neural tube defects, heart defects, oral clefts, and kidney defects.

The authors of the McLeod Report claim to have conducted a critical analysis of the epidemiological studies, including the Ranch Hand study. However, nowhere in the McLeod Report is there any mention of the key finding of the Ranch Hand study, that the children of Ranch Hand veterans have an increased incidence of all birth defects. Failure to report this key finding can only be interpreted as a misrepresentation of the Ranch Hand results.

The McLeod Reports ignorance of the Ranch Hand congressional inquiry is all the more inexplicable, since the longer version of the McLeod Report lists, among experts it has consulted, Dr. David Butler, of the US National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine. Dr. Butler gave evidence at the inquiry. It is not likely that Dr. Butler has forgotten his appearance at the inquiry. His unwillingness to answer the simplest of questions prompted the inquirys leader, Congressman Christopher Shays, to exclaim:

I am going to ask it again and we will have a long time here, because it is really a simple question and it is a waste of time for you to be here if you are not going to answer basic simple questions. It is a yes or no.

3.3.8.4. Ranch Hand study and spina bifida

The United States General Accounting Office (GAO) produced a scathing report on the operation of the Ranch Hand study in December 1999. Aside from its criticisms however, the GAO found that there had been one positive outcome from the Ranch Hand study after 20 years and 150 million United States dollars. The Ranch Hand figures had contributed to a decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs to allow compensation to children of Vietnam veterans born with spina bifida. The McLeod Reports analysis of the Ranch Hand study does not even mention spina bifida.

3.3.8.5. Ranch Hand methodology concerns

Members of the congressional inquiry into the Ranch Hand study expressed concern over certain aspects of its methodology. Firstly, there was concern over the very suggestion that Air Force veterans who had taken part in Operation Ranch Hand could possibly be considered to have been a suitable group for a study of this kind. After all, it is simple common sense that those who flew above the herbicide spray could not possibly be a model for the health problems suffered by those who lived and worked on the ground below the spray. Secondly, although the aim of the exercise is to determine whether the health of Vietnam veterans and their children is different from that of the general population, the Ranch Hand study actually compares one group of Vietnam veterans with another group of Vietnam veterans. The comparison group in the Ranch Hand study is a group of US Air Force veterans who served in Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, but were not employed on Operation Ranch Hand. This is obviously a flawed methodology.

 

 

3.3.8.6. Conflict of interest concerns in Ranch Hand study

Vietnam veterans, and the funding authorities for this project in the US congress, have always held serious concerns about the suitability of the Ranch Hand study being in the hands of the US Air Force. The congressional inquiry expressed the same concerns.

The Ranch Hand study has serious implications for the US Air Force. If the study finds that Ranch Hand veterans have a greater incidence of health problems, or a greater risk of fathering children with birth defects, then the Air Force will be forced to admit that it poisoned its own army, the armies of its allies, and the people of Vietnam. That hardly makes the Air Force a suitable body to conduct the study. The way the Air Force falsified the birth defects figures only adds to this concern.

3.3.8.7. McLeod Report and Ranch Hand study

It is extraordinary that the McLeod Reports analysis of the Ranch Hand study has completely failed to mention the falsification of figures, methodology and conflict of interest concerns, which so outraged American authorities that a congressional inquiry was ordered. The McLeod Report also fails to mention the high incidence of birth defects found in the Ranch Hand study, or the fact that the Ranch Hand study contributed to US DVA recognition of a link between Vietnam service and spina bifida. Another notable omission from the McLeod Report is an acknowledgment that its analysis of the Ranch Hand study is out of step with the Agent Orange Scientific Task Force.

3.3.9. Misleading labeling in McLeod Report table

The McLeod Reports table displays two figures for CDC studies. The first is labeled as "CDC: Self-report", the second as "CDC: validated". The first has a figure of 1.3 (30% more birth defects in the Vietnam veteran group). The second has a figure of 1.0 (no difference in the birth defect rates between Vietnam veterans and controls). This labeling of the two studies gives the impression that the second study is a validation, and therefore a more credible version, of the first. This is simply false. The second CDC study is an entirely different study, on a different subject group, with completely different methodology. The first study compared more than 7,000 Vietnam veterans with a similar number of non-veterans. The second study analysed a subset, not of veterans, but of approximately 1,000 children, from the first study. The CDC group gives no indication of the criteria used for selecting out children from the first study.

Clearly, a comparison of Vietnam veterans and non-veterans and the number of their children born with birth defects is completely different from a study that works backwards from a selected group of children to their fathers. For example, a Vietnam veteran who has fathered three children with birth defects would have considerable statistical weight in the first study. In the second study, one, two or three of his children could be selected out. Those who remained in the second study would be counted as individual children with birth defects, each with a single Vietnam veteran father. Thus the Vietnam veteran father with multiple children born with birth defects loses his statistical weight. This is an example of dilution of a study, something with which a US congressional inquiry found Erickson and the CDC to be all too familiar.

For the McLeod Report to label this second CDC study as a validation of the first is breathtakingly misleading.

3.3.10. Orientalism

There is a hint of "Orientalism" in the McLeod Reports treatment of Vietnamese studies, when compared with its treatment of American studies. Orientalism is a term coined by Edward Said in his book of the same name. It refers to Eurocentric assumptions of superiority over Asian nations and peoples. The McLeod Report appears to assume that a study conducted by medical scientists in an Asian country, especially a communist country such as Vietnam, could not possibly have the same validity as a similar study in an economically advanced nation such as the United States. This bias is not a provable fact. It is only a perception. It is, however, a perception the McLeod Report brings upon itself by its apparent willingness to dismiss Vietnamese studies, while at the same time accepting falsified American studies without criticism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONCLUSION

The circumstances surrounding the production of the McLeod Report raise many disturbing questions. There is no reason to doubt the motives of the government in commissioning the report. The aim appears to have been a genuine desire to prevent services to New Zealand veterans from falling behind those available in Australia and the United States. The government, and New Zealands veteran community, were entitled to expect something better than the shoddy research and remarkable ignorance of the subject matter shown by the authors of the McLeod Report.

The authors of the McLeod Report made no attempt to find out where New Zealanders served during the Vietnam War. They made no attempt to find out where herbicides and pesticides were sprayed during the Vietnam War. They made no attempt to find out what exposure models are currently in use. They made no attempt to access freely available information on indirect exposure. By depriving themselves of this information, the authors of the McLeod Report have disqualified themselves from making any comment on the exposure of New Zealand veterans to herbicides and pesticides during the Vietnam War.

The McLeod Report claims to have conducted a comprehensive, critical analysis of a number of epidemiological studies relevant to the health of the children of Vietnam veterans. Yet it is clear that the authors of the McLeod Report have only read the summaries of those studies. They have not actually read or thoroughly researched the studies. My own research shows that there is important information buried in the detail of those studies, some of which contradicts the summaries that have been released to the public. The McLeod Reports failure to find any of that important information makes it clear that they have not conducted any research into the studies.

The McLeod Report has apparently not bothered to find out that some of the studies it has cited have been the subject of United States congressional inquiries into malpractice, falsification of data, misrepresentation of results, and political interference. This is common knowledge to any reader familiar with the topic. The McLeod Reports failure to find this easily available information casts serious doubts on its research.

The McLeod Report has failed to inform the New Zealand Government that its own conclusions are out of step with the Agent Orange Scientific Task Force, a body with a significantly higher level of expertise than that of the McLeod Report. Surely the authors of the McLeod Report are ethically bound to inform the New Zealand Government of the existence of a significant body of opinion that disagrees with their own.

The McLeod Report has been subjected to a review process at a number of levels. It has allegedly been subjected to peer review, although the reviewers apparently wish to be anonymous. It has also been reviewed by the New Zealand Department of Health. This should be a matter of serious concern to the New Zealand Government. The review process has failed to pick up any of the research failures I have outlined above. I find this staggering, since these failings are obvious to anybody familiar with this topic.

The McLeod Report has ignored female Vietnam veterans. This is a significant omission. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs has found the rate of birth defects in the children of female Vietnam veterans to be too high to ignore. It offers treatment for all birth defects in the offspring of female Vietnam veterans that are not caused by a familial disorder, a birth related injury, or a fetal or neo-natal infirmity with a well-established cause. Although the number of New Zealand female Vietnam veterans is small, it would have been useful to count them, together with American and Australian female veterans, to add their statistical weight to the mix.

The McLeod Report apparently wants the New Zealand Government to believe that somehow New Zealanders in Vietnam were invisible soldiers. They served alongside Australians and Americans, but magically they were not exposed to the same dangers as their allies. As Senator Daschle noted in his comments on the theory of eternal recurrence, the Agent Orange deception has been going on far too long, targeting Vietnam veterans and their families. It is time to bring it to an end. The New Zealand Government should throw the McLeod Report into the rubbish bin, where it belongs. By doing so, they would send a message to New Zealands Vietnam veterans that, at least in the eyes of their government, they are not invisible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

 

Advisory Committee on the Health of Veterans Children, Inquiry into the Health Status of Children of Vietnam and Operation Grapple Veterans, 1999. Copy downloaded from NZ Government website,

http://www.executive.govt.nz/96-99/minister/shipley/vietnam/03.htm

Albanese, Richard A., United States Air Force Personnel and Exposure to Herbicide Orange, Interim Report for Period March 1984 February 1988, United States Air Force: Brooks Air Force Base, TX, Feb., 1988.

Blatter, B.M., Hermens, R., et al., "Paternal Occupational Exposure Around Conception and Spina Bifida in Offspring", American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Volume 32, (1997), pp. 283-291.

Buckingham, William A. Jr., Operation Ranch Hand: The Air Force and Herbicides in Southeast Asia 1961-1971, Washington D.C., Office of Air Force History, United States Air Force, 1982.

Centers for Disease Control, "Health status of Vietnam veterans III. Reproductive outcomes and child health", Journal of the American Medical Association, 259 (18), pp. 2715-2719.

Clapp, Richard W. et al., The Agent Orange Scientific Task Force Report on Reproductive and Developmental Effects, Birth Defects Research for Children website, http://www.birthdefects.org/information/AO_Task_Force.htm.

Committee on Government Reform, House of Representatives, Agent Orange: Status of the Air Force Ranch Hand Study, Hearing before the Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs, and International Relations. One Hundred and Sixth Congress, Second Session, March 15, 2000, Serial No. 106-163, Washington DC, US Government Printing Office, 2000.

Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Agent Orange, Veterans and Agent Orange, Health Effects of Herbicides Used in Vietnam, Washington D.C., National Academy Press, 1994.

Department of Veterans Affairs, Fact Sheet: Agent Orange and Related Issues, January 2003, Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Public Affairs, Washington DC, 2003.

Erickson, J.D., Mulinare, J., et. al., "Vietnam veterans risks for fathering babies with birth defects", Journal of the American Medical Association, 252 (7), pp. 903-912.

Health Council of the Netherlands: Committee on Updating of Occupational Exposure Limits. 2,4,5-T; Health-based Reassessment of Administrative Occupational Exposure Limits. The Hague: Health Council of the Netherlands, 2003; 2000/15OSH/065.

Hogg, R. D., Consultant to the Minister for Veterans Affairs, Royal Commission on the Use and Effects of Chemical Agents on Australian Personnel in Vietnam: An Assessment and Recommendations as a Basis for a Final Cabinet Submission, 19 October, 1987.

Institute of Medicine (US). Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides, Veterans and Agent Orange: update 2000, Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides, Division of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Institute of Medicine, Washington DC., 2001.

McAulay, Lex, The Battle of Coral, Melbourne, Century Hutchinson, 1988.

McLeod, Dr. J, et al., Health Outcomes for the Children of Vietnam Veterans, General Practice Department, Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Otago, General Practice Department Working Paper No. 4, 2001, (the McLeod Report).

 

McLeod, Deborah, PhD, DPH, Cormack, Donna, MA, & Kake, Tai, BSc(Hons 1), The Health Needs of the Children of Operation Grapple and Vietnam Veterans: A Critical Appraisal Undertaken for the Office of Veterans Affairs, Ministry of Defence, August 2001, General Practice Department Report No. 4, August 2001, Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences (the McLeod Report, long version).

Newman, Lt. S. D., Vietnam Gunners: 161 Battery, RNZA, South Vietnam, 1965-71, Tauranga, Moana Press, 1988.

Said, Edward W., Orientalism, London : Routledge And Kegan Paul, 1978.

Schecter, Arnold, Dai, Le Cao, et al., "Recent Dioxin Contamination from Agent Orange in Residents of a Southern Vietnam City", Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Vol. 43, No. 5, May 2001, pp. 435-443.

Schecter, Arnold, Pavuk, Marian, et al., "Collaborative USA-Vietnamese Agent Orange Research from 1968 to 2002: Also including German, Canadian, Dutch, Japanese and Finnish Scientific Collaboration", National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences web site, http://www.niehs.nih.gov/external/usvcrp/conf2002/abs_pdf/diox-017.pdf

Schecter, Arnold, Quynh, Hoang Trong, et al., "Food as a Source of Dioxin Exposure in the Residents of Bien Hoa City, Vietnam", Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 45, Number 8, August 2003, pp. 781-788.

Stellman, J.M., Stellman, S.D. et al., "The extent and patterns of usage of Agent Orange and other herbicides in Vietnam", Nature, Vol. 422, 17 April 2003, pp. 681-687.

Stuart, Major R.F., 3RAR in South Vietnam 1967-68, Brookvale, N.S.W., Printcraft Press, 1968.

Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs, and International Relations of the Committee on Government Reform, United States Congress, 106th Congress, 15 March 2000, Serial Number 106-163.

United States General Accounting Office, Agent Orange: Actions Needed to Improve Communications of Air Force Ranch Hand Study Data and Results, GAO, December 1999.

Wolfe, William H., Michalek, Joel E., et al., An Epidemiological Investigation of Health Effects in Air Force Personnel Following Exposure to Herbicides: Reproductive outcomes, 31 August 1992, Epidemiologic Research Division, Armstrong Laboratory, Human Systems Center (AFMC), Brooks Air Force Base, Texas, 1992.

Zumwalt, Admiral E. R. Jr., Report to the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs on the Association between Adverse Health Effects and Exposure to Agent Orange, United States Department of Veterans Affairs, May 5, 1990.

 

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