TTU Vietnam Center & Sam Johnson Vietnam Archives to become the world’s leading hub for research on Agent Orange.
Could Mysteries Surrounding Agent Orange Finally Be Answered?
LUBBOCK, Texas (NEWS RELEASE) - Steve Maxner, director of the Vietnam Center & Sam Johnson Vietnam Archives (VNCA); Amy Mondt, associate director, and Andrew Hinton, head of collection development, applied for a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant in 2020. They recently discovered they received a grant, but not just any grant – they received the largest NEH grant in Texas this year.
Packed away in Lubbock, are 1,100 boxes of documents that never reached the courtroom during the famous 1980s class action case against the creators of Agent Orange. The NEH believes these papers could have endless implications across many disciplines, reinforced by its significant grant to Texas Tech.
“This is a highly unusual collection, and one that is noteworthy,” said an NEH panelist who reviewed the grant. “This collection will offer new and unique contributions not only to the field of military history, but also legal, medical, political, and environmental histories. In addition to academic fields, the release of these records could have an impact on future public health and military policies, as well as medical ethics.”
In the 1980s, several U.S. Vietnam veterans sued the U.S. chemical companies that produced the herbicide known as Agent Orange. The companies settled with the veterans out of court.
The question remains, however. What story do those papers tell and why were they not released in court?
After the lawsuit in the 1980s, some of the companies named in it went out of business. One of these companies turned over its legal documents to its attorneys to do with as they saw fit.
“Our assumption is that these attorneys figured they would try to do some good,” Maxner said. “They were being civically responsible when they released these papers.”
The papers were first given to a veteran’s association in New Jersey, but in 2014 were sent to their new home – Texas Tech’s Vietnam Center & Sam Johnson Vietnam Archives. Now that the team has received grant money, they will begin the three-year process of discovering what truths these boxes hold.
“What we have so far are pieces of the puzzle, but these litigation papers are the motherload we’ve been missing,” Maxner said. “We hope to ascertain whether the effects of Agent Orange were foreseeable, and if these corporations used it anyway.”
These are just some of many questions that have been left unanswered from the war.
The lack of information surrounding Agent Orange also has severe implications for veterans and their families, who continue to suffer from the dioxin exposure. This exposure can cause various kinds of cancer, thyroid disorders, extra limbs, missing limbs, diabetes, and many other complications.
“There are many future possibilities depending on what we find in these files,” Mondt said. “Veterans may be able to get better medical help. Perhaps their children will gain access to benefits they need. Vietnam could better clean their soil and environment.”
When this collection is processed, Texas Tech’s Vietnam Center & Sam Johnson Vietnam Archives will become the world’s leading hub for research on Agent Orange. The archives, created in 1989 have already hosted millions of visitors over the years, providing resources for researchers and veterans alike.
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