The link to the entire hearing can be found here.


Ms. HOAN. First, I want to thank Chairman Faleomavaega and Member Watson and everybody spending time to come here. The subject of this hearing is to understand the needs of the vic- tims of Agent Orange. I would like to contribute to this discussion because I am one of those victims. I would like to share my per- sonal experience with you today. But my experience is not unique. I am one of hundreds of thousands of young people whose lives have been marked by our parents’ or grandparents’ exposure to Agent Orange.

I was born as you see me, without two legs and missing a hand. I was born on December 16,1986, into a farming family in Duc Linh district of Binh Thuan province in central Vietnam. My moth- er was exposed to Agent Orange earlier when she was farming her plot of land, which turned out to have Agent Orange canisters bur- ied in the soil. My older sisters and my older brother were born without any problems, and my younger brother was stillborn in 1988, due to an abdominal wall defect. When I was young, it was difficult for me to play with the other children or attend school because at that time, people didn’t under- stand about Agent Orange. They thought my condition was a result of bad karma in my family.

When I was 8 years old, I met a local journalist who suggested I go to Tu Do Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City so that I could get bet- ter care and an education. With my parents’ encouragement, I moved to Peace Village II, the Agent Orange center at Tu Du Hospital. Since then, I have been living in Peace Village II. I share the ward with 60 children suffering from the effects of Agent Orange. Let me tell you about some of my friends who share my home. They suffer from spinal bifida, congenital limb deformity, multi-joint stiffness, different types of syndromes, microcephaly, hy- drocephalus, cerebral palsy, and others.

I also know others, such as Pham Thi Thuy Dung, who is 16 years old, and Pham Thi Linh Nhi, her younger sister, 14, and their sufferings, but I know how they are classified. She can- not speak. Dung was born in Binh Thuan province; 48 inches in height, 53 pounds in weight, bedridden, she cannot speak. She gets sick when there is a change in temperature. Linh Nhi is 64 pounds and 49 inches tall, she sleeps most of the time and suffers from nutritional deficiencies. Little Pham Thi Thuy Linh, born 1994 with- out arms, now lives in Peace Village II. She writes with her toes. Her grandpa was an ARVN soldier who participated in the spraying of Agent Orange.

At Peace Village II, we all live together, and those of us who are able help those who are sicker. Some of my friends have died from their birth defects, like Nguyen Thi Hanh, born in 1997, who had multijoint stiffness, and died in 2007. Little Huynh Thurong Hoai, born in 1996 in Cu Chi without a left arm and without legs, had a heart defect and suffered from epilepsy and multideformity and died in 1999 from total heart muscle failure. Victims of Agent Orange die every day, and they need immediate attention and help. The staff of the Peace Village II is loving and kind and does their best to create a warm atmosphere for us. There are many other children who could benefit from this treatment, but there is not enough room for all those children who need this kind of care. Some of the residents, like me, can go to school and work, but oth- ers will lie in their beds until they eventually die. All over Vietnam there are hundreds of thousands of children like Dung and Hanh who lie at home without access to the services available to those at Peace Village II.

I don't know what would have happened to me if I hadn’t been able to come to Peace Village II. Without legs and a hand, it would be difficult to farm. And without education, other jobs would be out of reach. But I was able to go through school. I am now about to graduate from the Ho Chi Minh City University of Foreign Languages and Information Technology with a certificate in computer science. In fact, I took a week away from preparing for final exams to come and testify here today. I am considering continuing my education. I had dreamed about being a doctor, but I don't know if my physical condition will allow me to do this. But I am confident that I will be able to find a way to make a contribution to my society and to continue to help other Agent Orange victims. I am one of the lucky ones. While I am missing limbs, my mental functioning is fine. No one knows what other effects of the dioxin/ Agent Orange may develop in my body, but many babies, children, and young people my age live lives of quiet agony. They are trapped in bodies that do not work. Their brain remains in infancy even as their bodies grow. Most of these children have much fewer medical and rehabilitative services than me. Most live with their families in farming communities like the one I grew up in. Some of their parents, the generation directly exposed to Agent Orange, are also sick with cancer. Whatever their health, most parents of seriously disabled victims are poor. Needing to provide constant care for their children, they cannot work. Many must spend money they don’t have each month for medicines. Some live is sub- standard housing.

Our Government does provide assistance to the most seriously ill victims, but our country is still developing, and the system doesn’t meet all the needs. The organization that represents individuals, the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/dioxin, also assists the victims. VAVA, as it is called, is building daycare cen- ters for young victims, rehabilitation centers, and providing medical care and social services. I am part of the new generation of VAVA members around the country. What do the victims need and want? We want those responsible for the terrible consequences of Agent Orange to hear our pain and then to respond as members of the human family. The chemical manufacturers who made the Agent Orange and the U.S. Govern- ment who sprayed and dumped it in our country should respond to this human tragedy by doing the right thing. This is a matter of justice and humanity.

Building more centers like Peace Village II in many regions of Vietnam is necessary, particularly for those with severe birth defects.

For those who are somewhat better off, daycare centers, vocational and educational rehabilitation centers, and aid to families to facilitate home care are crucial. Medical care specifically targeted to the conditions we face, as well as prosthetics and other services, is needed.

For our parents and grandparents exposed during the war, treat- ment for their cancers and all the diseases is a responsibility. A comprehensive approach will be required to meet these human health needs. Going along with this is the requirement that the toxic hot spots where dioxin remains in the land and water be cleaned up.

Agent Orange victims also want a say in how services for us are planned and delivered. That is why our organization, VAVA, should be central to the development of all assistance programs. Many youth like me were born after the war. Like other young people, we dream of having a family, getting a job, and having a peaceful life. But the aftermath of the war destroys the dreams of many young Agent Orange victims in Vietnam. In this 15th year of relations between Vietnam and the U.S., we ask the U.S. people and their representatives to reach out your hands in friendship and understanding.

I am aware that the children and grandchildren of U.S. veterans exposed to Agent Orange are suffering like us. We wish to share common experiences with them. We hope that they receive the medical care and assistance they need. There is a Vietnamese saying, ‘‘Ngay mai troi lai sang,’’ some- thing like the American popular song, ‘‘The sun will come up tomorrow.’’ I hope that this hearing will be testament to the power of hope, of dreams, and of assuring justice.

Thank you.

The link to the entire hearing can be found here.