WASHINGTON, July 1 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) leaves Friday on a congressional delegation trip to Vietnam led by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the Senate health committee chairman.
Sanders, a member of the health committee, said one focus of the trip will be on the lingering health consequences from Agent Orange, the code name for one of the herbicides and defoliants widely used by the U.S. military in southeast Asia. Sanders also is a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and supported the recent extension of benefits to veterans whose exposure to Agent Orange has led to heart disease, leukemia and Parkinson’s disease.
Trade policies and their impact on American workers is another issue that Sanders will explore on the trip during Congress’s one-week July recess.
Agent Orange remains a concern for many Vermonters who served during the Vietnam war. Sanders on June 19 participated in a town meeting in Montpelier hosted by Vermont veterans of the Vietnam War. They are concerned about birth defects and other lingering health consequences for families of servicemen exposed to Agent Orange.
“It is clear we have to continue the research, a lot of which is currently being done in Vietnam,” said Sanders. Thousands of Vietnamese children have been born with birth defects after problems related to exposure to Agent Orange. “We also have the absolute moral obligation to take care of our veterans and their family members dealing with the long-term consequences of Agent Orange,” Sanders added. He noted that Vietnam veterans had to wage an uphill battle just to get the U.S. government to acknowledge that chemicals used in the war were related to health problems. “This has been a pretty sorry history,” Sanders said.
The trip to Vietnam includes a stop at Da Nang, one of the so-called hot spots where chemical defoliants were heavily used in the rain forest jungle area around a busy U.S. military airfield. In 2006, the United States agreed to support a cleanup fund.
Sanders said he also will focus in Vietnam on his long-standing interest in trade policies during meetings with Vietnamese government officials and others.
Since Congress passed Permanent Normal Trade Relations with Vietnam in 2006, the U.S. has lost thousands of jobs in the apparel and textile industries, while our trade deficit has increased. Discussions are underway on whether to include Vietnam in a new Trans Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.
“We need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to prevent even more American workers from losing their jobs,” Sanders said. “With the average worker in Vietnam making less than someone in China, I simply don’t think it is fair to ask Americans to compete against some of the lowest paid workers in the world.”