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Women Vietnam Vets Target of VA Study

Nearly 40 years after the war, the women who served in Vietnam, Southeast Asia and in the United States during the conflict will be the subject of a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) study designed to explore the effects their military service had on their mental and physical health. Eric Shinseki, secretary of Veterans Affairs, said in announcing the study in December, that meeting the needs of female vets is one of his top priorities. “Our veterans have earned the very best care,” Shinseki said. “The VA realizes that women veterans require specialized programs, and this study will help VA provide high-quality care for women veterans of the Vietnam era.”

Some 250,000 women veterans, most now in their 60s, served in the military during the Vietnam War, with about 7,000 in or near Vietnam. Approximately 10,000 women will be contacted to participate in the four-year, $5.6-million comprehensive study. The information about the veterans will be gathered through a mailed survey, telephone interview and a review of their medical records to assess their experience with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), other mental and physical problems, and the relationship between PTSD and other conditions. Its findings will be used to shape future research and to help provide the VA’s support services for aging women veterans.

Today, women veterans are among the fastest growing segments of the overall veteran population. According to VA statistics, women made up just 4 percent of the total veteran population in 1988, but now that percentage has nearly doubled. By 2020, the VA estimates that 10.5 percent of all veterans will be women. During a 2009 Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing on the health issues unique to female veterans, Iraq War vet Kayla Williams said, “It is vital that the VA provide times or places where women veterans, especially those who may have experienced military sexual trauma, can feel safe and comfortable seeking help in a community of their peers.”

Thailand Rebuffs U.S. and U.N., Forces Hmong to Return to Laos

Even though President Barack Obama sent Eric Schwartz, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, to Thailand in December to present senior Thai officials with a letter committing the United States and other Western countries to resettle any Hmong who are deemed to be refugees, Thai officials went forward with the forced deportation of 4,500 ethnic Hmong back to Laos on December 28. Among them were some 158 who were already recognized as refugees by the United Nations. The U.N., the United States and others fear the refugees will face persecution by the Laotian government, which denied immediate access to the Hmong, contending that would “complicate” matters, but insisting that international observers would be permitted to visit them later. The repatriation all but ended this group of Hmongs’ three-decade search for asylum.

During the Vietnam War, the United States used Hmong troops in Laos to help disrupt the flow of North Vietnamese troops and supplies on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, to help rescue downed U.S. pilots along the Vietnamese border with Laos, and to protect the U.S. radar site at Pha Thi Mountain. When the Communists took over Vietnam in 1975, the Hmong became refugees, and many of them found refuge in camps within Thailand and were aided by international agencies. Of the nearly 3,000,000 prewar Hmong, less than 200,000 made it to safety, resettling in Thailand, the United States, France, Australia and Canada. Many of those in Thailand were living at the Huay Nam Khao camp in Thailand’s northern province.

Thailand did not allow the U.N. refugee agency or any third party to assess the Hmong refugee status or monitor their return to Laos, which the two countries agreed would take place before the end of 2009. Thai officials say they secured guarantees from Laotian officials that the refugees won’t be harmed in Laos and that international observers would be free to inspect the villages where the Hmong will be resettled. Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Thailand received “confirmation from the Laotian government that these Hmong will have a better life.” According to the Washington Post, some 150,000 Hmong have been accepted into the United States.

Vietnam’s Defense Minister Visits U.S.

In only the second visit to the United States by a Vietnamese defense minister since the two countries normalized relations in 1995, General Phung Quang Thanh met in Washington with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in December to discuss mutual concerns, especially with regard to both nations’ ongoing efforts to search for their service members still missing in action. In addition to the 97 search and excavation missions the two countries have jointly conducted, Vietnamese officials handed over documents that pinpoint another 13 locations for joint excavations. In exchange, the U.S. has provided information relating to nearly 1,000 cases of Vietnamese soldiers who remain missing in action. The two sides pledged to elevate their cooperation in addressing other postwar issues, including decontaminating toxic chemicals and removing bombs and mines left behind in Vietnam. Thanh also met with Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, a former Marine and Vietnam veteran.

Report: Agent Orange Risks Were Known by Maker

A December Chicago Tribune investigation revealed that in 1965, Dow Chemical Co. referred to dioxin, a contaminant in Agent Orange, as “one of the most toxic materials known causing not only skin lesions, but also liver damage.” The Tribune also reported that documents it reviewed showed that techniques were available to drastically cut the amount of dioxin in the defoliant during manufacture. After examining court documents and government records in the National Archives, the newspaper concluded soldiers were exposed to Agent Orange without being informed of its risks, making exposure more dangerous. Chemical companies that produced the defoliant have been sued by veterans and Vietnamese who were exposed to dioxin.

Men and Missions of Linebacker II Get a Salute in Guam

During a ceremony at Guam’s Andersen AFB to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the December 18-29, 1972, Operation Linebacker II, 33 airmen fell into formation beside the flagpole. “Today’s 33- man formation represents the 33 aircrew killed during the 11-day Linebacker II campaign,” said Captain Brooks Walters, an officer of the 393rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, which sponsored the December 2009 event. He then proceeded to read the names of the 33 airmen who did not return from the bombing runs into North Vietnam.

The ceremony was attended by two airmen directly involved with Linebacker II, along with other service members, congressional representatives and civic leaders, and featured a B-2 Spirit flyover, a rifle salute and taps played by a bugler who stood under the wing of a B-52 on display. The flag at Andersen’s Arc Light Memorial Park was lowered and flown at half-staff for the next 11 days to honor the airmen for their part in the 11-day operation.

In late 1972, Andersen was the site of the most massive buildup of air power in American history, with more than 15,000 personnel and more than 150 B-52s lining all available space on the flightline. During those 11 days of bombing, when the Paris Peace talks had stalled and President Richard M. Nixon sought to force the North Vietnamese to return to the negotiating table, Andersen AFB launched 729 bombing missions against 34 targets in North Vietnam.

The intense bombing resulted in more than 1,600 civilian deaths in Hanoi and Haiphong, but the operation played a vital role in the renewal of the peace talks, which concluded on January 28, 1973, with the signing of a cease-fire with the government of North Vietnam.

Decorated NVA Officer Convicted of Subversion

In late December, a 60-year-old former lieutenant colonel and proponent of democratic reforms in Vietnam, Tran Anh Kim, was convicted of subversion and sentenced to five years in prison. According to press reports, Kim’s trial was the first of a series of upcoming prosecutions of pro-democracy and human-rights activists. Kim, who faced a potential death sentence, stood accused of joining an organization promoting multiparty democracy, of posting prodemocracy articles on the Internet and being a member of an outlawed party.


Originally published in the April 2010 issue of Vietnam. To subscribe, click here