Merle Ratner: We Are Always With You - Victims of Agent Orange

Merle Evelyn Ratner is an American activist born in New York city. She has been active in the anti-Vietnam War since she was 13 years old and is currently a founding Co-Coordinator of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign in the United States. On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Agent Orange disaster in Vietnam (August 10, 1961 - August 10, 2021), she sent a message to those victims: "We are always with you".

Merle Ratner was at a demonstration opposing Agent Orange manufacturer.

What is the most concerned issue for overcoming the aftermath of agent orange in Vietnam?

I think that we have worked for many years for the United States government to meet the responsibility to Vietnamese agent orange victims by providing the assistance to the victims everything from healthcare, supporting their family to the different kinds of vocational training or any kind of services as well as cleaning the toxic parts of the agent orange maintaining in Vietnam.

Today, the United States have given more funds that have gone to clean up the hot spots in Danang and now we are doing it in Bien Hoa. The one of Da Nang has been cleaned up, the another one has not yet, still in progress.

For the human victims of agent orange, the US are giving less funds for the human victims, despitte millions of dollars, the whole is inadequate to the need of victims and victims’ families. The first generations of victims who were directly sprayed by the US but the second, third and fourth generations are the ones suffering because of the exposure of their parents or grandparents. And the younger victims are now facing some big crisis because their parents or grandparents are getting old and some who had taken care of them have died, raising a big concern about that.

So we have built the draft of the Agent Orange bill in the US Congress sponsored by Congresswoman Barbara Lee who is the big champion of agent justice all over the world and also in Vietnam, particularly in the US. Her bill of supporting the call for dioxin companies to compensate Vietnamese agent orange victims and their families, cleaning up the hot spots of agent orange and especially helping the children and grandchildren of American veterans and Vietnamese American victims of agent orange and we have done working and adding also to help Lao and Cambodian victims of the same situation.

What should we do to improve the situation, please?

During this period of time, the Covid-19 pandemic is outbreak and spreading all over the world and in Vietnam, which has greatly affected the victims of agent orange.

I think the agent orange victims have particular danger they face from Covid, new strange variants of Covid, because often some of them have birth defects make them maybe more susceptible if they are older, or victims with cancer, so we are really waiting for the acceptability to support agent orange victims in Vietnam to Covid and the varians of Covid.

The US government need to support more vaccine to Vietnam, particularly for agent orange victims as well as continuing and working hard to meet the responsibility in general for help victims of agent orange in Vietnam.

How do you recommend on the activities taking care of agent orange victims in Vietnam?

We work with the partner organization, Vietnam Association for victims of agent orange/dioxide (VAVA) for actions, they organize and hold the programs of health centers, care centers to day-care centers, vocational training centers to control so we support the work to do that and we have funded when we can and we continue to urge the United States government to fund the programs of the VAVA because the VAVA’s people come from the agent orange victims and doing the program of agent orange victims since 2004 I believe, so they know best how to stand and the US government has to take the responsibility to fund the programs of the VAVA running in Vietnam in next period.

Could you please share the basic achievements in activities supporting Vietnamese agent orange victims done by the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign (VAORRC) and yours personally over the years?

I won’t talk about the personal achievements because the activities we do together in groups, I work as a co-ordinator for the Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign and plays a role for it, but we have great coordination of members as well as support, and we also work with some other groups all over the world .

We have also done a lot media work in the US , as on radio and when we received around 12 delegations from Vietnam we made media for that, we did a lot for education for many communities we did a lot speaking in the schools or community centers, but it is pity that, again the Covid crisis hasn't let us do in public speaking but we still did webinars for leaders in Vietnamese and American also Lao and Cambodian communities.

Also, we have very strong partners in Vietnamese, Lao and Cambodian communities because they work effectively for victims of agent orange, so we work with young Vietnamese American, Cambodian American and Lao American.

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We’ve got the American Public Health Association, which is the largest public health association in the world to pair a policy resolution supporting the US giving comprehensive aid to Agent Orange victims in Vietnam as a public health emergency matter, and we send money. We are not mainly a fund-raising organization but from time to time we raise money and send it to VAVA for their care of agent orange victims and one of their chapters around Vietnam.

Each country has different relationship with Vietnam. The US government is the one that mainly responsible for the war, for the warcrime, for using chemical warfare, for the harm to Vietnamese people and land so our movement in the US is particularly responsibility to force its government to meet its responsiblity to heal the wounds of war, to provide comprehensive assistance to Vietnamese agent orange victims and to clean up the hot spots. 

Members of the core of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign with members of the VAVA women’s delegation including Agent Orange victims Tran Thi Hoan and Dang Hong Nhut.

In your opinion, What do the international communities need to support Vietnamese victims in the future?

So, first, the most important is the political solidarity and the political pressure on the US government and other Western governments to aid agent orange victims directly and to make sure the money goes to the victims in Vietnam.

Two, it is to build solidarity in the people-to-people levels. And then, the first one is to get aids from people-to-people resources when we can to raise money among people.

And the other key area is to pressure Dow and Monsanto, the two biggest chemical companies and to see if there’s a way to boycott their products or put economic pressure on them to make sure that they meet their responsibility. Because while the US government has been forced to give some amount of money, which have done it on its own for cleaning up the hot spots and for the victims, Dow an Monsanto have given zero, nothing, and they deny their responsibility and they reason out of their responsibility while they keep continue to make huge profits on their use of pesticide and some of toxic as well even though they are not in.

So they need to be a national campaign about Dow and Monsanto.

Could you please share your message to Vietnamese agent orange victims?

I would say to the Vietnamese agent orange victims that we are with you, we support you, we will never stop fighting for you and politically fighting for the US government to meet responsibility to provide compensation to the victims and cleanup to the land of Vietnam.

I also want to say that Vietnamese agent orange victims, many of the victims are strong, and they are fighting themselves and we really admire the Vietnamese agent orange victims who fight for themselves and the fellow victims, who come and testifying in congress, who come and stood with us in the action against Dow Chemical, to come and spoke to literally tens of thousands of American in our speaking tours, who build the projects that VAVA develops while working with other victims who are going to schools, to colleges, who are becoming activists in Vietnam, who are writing, who are speaking, who are becoming doctors, scientists, many things and overcoming all of the obstacles, who are fighting all of the prestiges in every country including Vietnam, for the agent orange victims that are doing educational work with VAVA to overcome and to get rid of those prestiges against disabled people with agent orange and related conditions.

So I would say we admire you, we respect you, we are with you. We will continue the work you’re doing, we will build a strong relationship between your organizations, the Vietnam Association For Victims of Agent Orange/ Dioxin and we continue to work together hand in hand, we’ll never be separated and we will build a higher and higher level to build the work stronger, deeper and more active. We will continue to work in the international movement, to support the work that VAVA is doing, to build international solidarity movement and support the agent orange victims.

Thank you very much!