Shedding candlelight on Agent Orange awareness

The Vietnam War officially ended 45 years ago, but for many veterans the fighting continued after they got home. Exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam has claimed the lives of an estimated 300,000 service members, and countless thousands continue to live with illnesses caused by the chemical defoliant.

The first use of Agent Orange is thought to have occurred on August 10, 1961. This year, on the 59th anniversary of that date, VVMF will hold its first-ever Agent Orange awareness event. Bring Light will illuminate the entire Vietnam Veterans Memorial site with orange candlelight — from The Wall itself to The Three Servicemen statue, the flagpole, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial statue and the In Memory plaque.

“A huge part of our mission is to honor those who served and survived, and many of those people and their families are still suffering nearly fifty years later,” says Heidi Zimmerman, VVMF’s vice president of programs and communications. “Our goal is to  raise awareness of the continuing impact of exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.”

Those who were exposed to Agent Orange have developed a range of health problems, including Parkinson’s disease, Hodgkin’s disease, prostate cancer, respiratory cancer, and more. 

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter authorized the first Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) study of Agent Orange, to evaluate the effects of the chemical compound on the pilots who sprayed it. After a decade of lawsuits filed by veterans for compensation to cover medical treatment needed as a result of Agent Orange exposure, the Agent Orange Act was established in 1991 to allow the VA to declare a range of diseases as probable effects of Agent Orange exposure. 

In addition to raising awareness for veterans who still struggle with the lasting effects of Agent Orange exposure, Bring Light aims to raise funds in support of ongoing VVMF programs. You can lend your support to this cause by sponsoring a candle for a $5 donation, or by purchasing a t-shirt. There are four t-shirt designs, and they’re all made in the U.S.A.

“There are more than fifty-eight thousand names memorialized on The Wall, and many thousands more who have died since returning home — many of whom were victims of Agent Orange,” says Zimmerman. “Vietnam veterans and their families are still battling its toxic effects. For them, the Vietnam War isn’t a historical event — it’s a current reality.”