Addressing a Dark Legacy: PA Legislators Battle Agent Orange’s Impact on Vietnam Veterans

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HARRISBURG, PA — This week, state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle united to address a lingering wound of the Vietnam War: Agent Orange. A blend of herbicides used during the conflict, Agent Orange has become a symbol of the unforeseen costs of warfare felt primarily by our nation’s veterans and their families.

After conclusive evidence emerged of the toxin’s drastic human impact – including cancers, neuro-psychological disorders, skin and heart ailments, and birth defects in veterans’ children – Agent Orange was swiftly outlawed. Yet, the fallout continues, most acutely among the estimated 231,500 Pennsylvania veterans who served during the Vietnam War.

Intent on remedying this, a coalition of PA representatives has proposed a task force on Agent Orange. The force will comprise military personnel and PA House and Senate members. Their objective is clear: to investigate and shape recommendations on optimal methods to communicate with veterans impacted by Agent Orange about the treatment options at their disposal.

This politically diverse group—led by state Reps Paul Takac, Mike Cabell, Brian Munroe, and others—is guided by a shared determination to honor their commitments to Pennsylvania’s veterans, particularly those harmed by exposure to Agent Orange.

“Since taking office, one of my areas of focus has been ensuring that veterans and their families are aware of and can more easily access all of the benefits and support available to them,” Takac stated.

Importantly, this initiative isn’t motivated solely by professional responsibility. For many, it’s personal. Dane Watro, who has a Vietnam veteran uncle suffering from the effects of Agent Orange, underscores the urgency of this initiative, stating, “A little relief for him would be welcome and so well deserved.”

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Pennsylvania harbors the third-largest veteran population in America, making the impact of Agent Orange a widespread issue within the state. It’s estimated that around 3 million U.S. military personnel were exposed to the chemical, with more than 300,000 veterans passing away due to its effects.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs already provides benefits for veterans exposed to Agent Orange. Still, the PA Department of Military and Veterans Affairs approximates that many eligible veterans in Pennsylvania are yet to receive them.

As Abby Major, another proponent of the bill and a veteran herself, aptly put it, “Those who were exposed to Agent Orange while in the military face additional long-term health issues, which entitle them to further assistance. This resolution will ensure they better understand opportunities available to them to address the effects of the chemical exposure.”

While the fallout from Agent Orange remains a painful reminder of the Vietnam War, there seems to be a shared belief among these PA legislators that ensuring the well-being of veterans still feeling the effects of this toxin is a cause everyone can rally behind. It’s a resounding affirmation that our gratitude and commitment to those who’ve served never expire regardless of the gap between the war’s end and the present day.

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