Sometimes it is easier to be cynical and believe one person can’t make a difference, so why try? But, if everyone acted on this premise, nothing would get done. There would be no progress. Every day we make choices, and those choices determine what happens to us. This series is about those who chose to make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of our veterans. By reading how they turned around the worst that could happen to them, you can turn their inspiration into a model for recovery and self-healing for yourself. Well-known veteran advocate Kenneth H. Young CD heads up this series.  Again, it is told in parts based on interview questions that I put to him.  BONNIE



1.     How and why you were selected?

I am a member of the (AOAC) Agent Orange Association of Canada, and I was not its first choice. Ken Dobbie, president of the AOAC, was. However, he was very sick at the time and VAVA (The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin) wanted a Canadian Veteran to represent Canada. Ken called me and asked if I would be willing to go in his place. I accepted the task. At first, VAVA wanted to know what I would be saying as I was also being asked to give a presentation to “the Second International Conference of Victims of Agent Orange” on the 50th anniversary of the first use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. After reading my speech, they were satisfied that I would do nicely and I then received a formal invitation from VAVA.

2.What were your experiences and impressions?

I was very impressed with VAVA’s organization in sending me – its ability to help me get a VISA for Vietnam, supply  the flight information, and even meeting me at the airport in Hanoi. August 8th and 9th of 2011 were spent giving my presentation and listening to many others from other countries as there were 27 countries, many world lawyers and human rights dignitaries as well as four ambassadors represented at the conference.

On the 10th of August, we attended an anniversary ceremony at the Hanoi Opera House. It is a grand old Opera House and the show was exquisite. I was also invited by VAVA to tour the country and to see many of their treatment or care sites for second- and third-generation victims. (Unlike me, they do not call themselves survivors.) On the 11th of August, I and three other people who had given presentation at the Conference departed on a 10-day whirlwind tour of Vietnam. It may be small compared to Canada but when you are rushing all over the country and attending ceremonies given in our honour by children, often with severe handicaps, it became long hours, often starting a six in the morning and ending only at 10 pm as we collapsed into our beds. The heat didn’t help as it is not unusual in August for the temperature to reach 40+ degrees.

English: U.S. Huey helicopter spraying Agent O...

English: U.S. Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange over Vietnam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We also visited DaNang and Bien Hoa airports or the ex-U.S. Military airbases where many of the chemical-spraying missions took place. Here there is still some of the highest concentrations of Agent Orange and the other Rainbow Chemicals in the world. With us on this tour of the country were interpreters and the top chemist from Vietnam. He  was very candid and answered all of our questions without any reservations. I believe that I was not the only one surprised at the discovery that Dioxin could be detected to a depth of two meters and that the highest concentrations were in fact between 40 to 60 centimetres and not at the depth which Canada were testing for dioxin at CFB Gagetown. This bothered me and I was a bit more the suspicious of Ottawa not really wanting to find any chemical residue in Gagetown.

We also got to see many of the deformed and handicapped children who suffered birth defects caused by these chemicals. I have pictures of many but I will not send them because this story will be read by returning soldiers, many who have PTSD and they really do not need more trauma. They have seen more than enough.  I, of course, got sick but thanks to my antibiotics was able to continue without even a break.

3. What were the results of this global conference?

I believe that this trip changed my life. Not so much the Conference but the touring of the country and seeing the children, especially the second- and third-generation victims. But it has also changed or increased my desire to let the world know what is going on worldwide, often without our collective knowledge but nevertheless in the name of our global community.  I find too that I can better understand countries or, better said, the people of these countries not liking us very much. I can’t say that I felt any of this in Vietnam; nevertheless, it was a lesson that opened my eyes to a truer reality.

It also woke up some questions in my mind about what the world and the United Nations could be doing but aren’t. I am talking about taking care of the survivors resulting from our preoccupation with war. The second and third generations of Rainbow chemical victims, for instance. They had no part in the Vietnam War. They did not use these chemicals. They are totally innocent. Why isn’t the world taking care of them?

Now to be fair, Vietnam (or VAVA) is doing what they can with limited supplies and volunteer workers, but with an estimated half a million children needing help, it should not have to be dealing with this on its own.

I feel I have been called to an added mission to convince the United Nations to take up the task of caring for these children, or, at the very least, help VAVA to do so.

PS: All of us who participated in this global conference  were treated like kings.

Note: Ken is a member of the Canadian Veterans Advocacy, V.E.T.S., Agent Orange Association of Canada, Our Duty, Veterans Of Canada and NATO Veterans Organization of Canada.



About Bonnie Toews and John Christiansen

Bonnie's Blog Posts invite our readers and free spirits everywhere to share life's adventures with us. I talk about writing my novels, reading books, chatting with other writers and John's and my journeys around the world. We welcome your anecdotes to our experiences and discussions.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan vets, Canadian Armed Forces, Canadian Peacekeepers, caregivers, depression, emotional trauma, estrangement from family, federal government, Homecoming Vets, mental illness, physical disability, post traumatic stress disorder, veterans' affairs, veterans' assistance programs, VRAB and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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