An official at the Department of Veterans Affairs, speaking about Agent Orange, “downplayed the risks of the chemical herbicide and questioned the findings of scientists, journalists and even a federal administrative tribunal that conflict with his views,” ProPublica reported. Agent Orange was a defoliant sprayed in rural areas during the Vietnam War and has been linked to a range of illnesses suffered by veterans of the war.
The non-profit news organization said the official told a VA advisory committee in March that “much of the renewed attention to Agent Orange — used during the Vietnam War to kill brush and deny cover to enemy troops — is the result of media ‘hype‘ and ‘hysteria,’ according to a transcript of the meeting released to ProPublica.”
The official, Jim Sampsel, a lead analyst within the Department of Veterans Affairs’ compensation service, reviews evidence to determine whether a veteran or group of veterans came in contact with Agent Orange outside of Vietnam, the ProPublica report said. “By law, veterans are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange if they served or stepped foot in Vietnam; they have to prove exposure if they served at sea or in another country during the war. They also must have a disease that the VA ties to exposure to the herbicide.”
Asked about the statements, a VA spokesman said that Sampsel “was speaking as an individual at the meeting, and not for the VA,” ProPublica said. “Mr. Sampsel’s comments did not fully or accurately reflect VA’s position concerning these issues,” the VA told ProPublica. Veterans organizations were “furious to learn a VA official charged with objectively weighing evidence related to Agent Orange had shared controversial personal views,” the news organization said.
Vietnamese likely exposed to Agent Orange have also reported illnesses that may have lasted generations, according to a report by FERN in collaboration with The Nation magazine in 2015. ProPublica found generational risks with U.S. veterans, too. ProPublica’s reporting is part of an extensive series on Agent Orange with the Virginian-Pilot.