Both houses of the Texas legislature have now unanimously done what the Congress in Washington has failed to do: pass a law on behalf of the many Vietnam veterans who believe they may be victims of Agent Orange. Next week a bill specifying priority medical treatment for such veterans may be brought to the US Senate floor. But, with the administration opposed to it, its chances are in doubt. Meanwhile, the Texas action is hailed as leading the way toward clarification of a tragic problem -- and doing so, as one of the affected veterans said, through a legal process without the pressure of protest demonstrations.
The Texas bill provides genetic screening for those concerned that exposure to the Agent Orange defoliant in Vietnam may affect their health or should affect their decision on whether to have children. Some veterans attribute birth defects in their children to such exposure. The bill also calls for long-term study of the health effects of the defoliant, and it authorizes the Texas attorney general to sue the federal government for information on the subject.
It should not take lawsuits to prompt the government to supply the necessary information so that independent evaluation can be made of the use and effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam. The Veterans Administration has been "slow and unwilling" to distribute such information, according to a reported draft study by a congressional subcommittee. As long ago as 1979 Senator Percy and the General Accounting Office called on the Pentagon and VA for new examination of Agent Orange sprayed on or near the troops. Not enough has been done since then. It is to be hoped that Texas's example helps speed national action to dispel the sad uncertainties existing now.