The U.S. began providing support to Vietnam for people with disabilities in 1989 as part of the Leahy War Victims Fund. But this early support was limited to victims of unexploded ordnance also known as UXO. For the first decade after normalization of diplomatic relations, the U.S. and Vietnam were not able to come to an agreement on providing support to people with disabilities that may have been caused by Agent Orange. Many organizations, including the Ford Foundation, Vietnam Veterans for America, Vets for Peace, The Fund for Reconciliation and Development and War Legacies Project, began advocating for the U.S. to do so.
In 2006, a breakthrough finally arrived when President George W. Bush visited Vietnam. In a joint statement with President Triet, the two countries agreed that cooperation on the dioxin contamination at former U.S. bases in Vietnam was valuable towards strengthening the U.S.-Viet Nam relationship. This enabled Senator Leahy in May 2007 to push through an appropriation of $3 million “for the remediation of dioxin contaminated sites in Vietnam, and to support health programs in communities near those sites.”
It took over a year for the U.S. to decide how to distribute these funds and its beneficiaries. At this time the U.S. insisted that funding to people with disabilities would be made “regardless of cause.” The programs would not specify whether or not someone’s disability was likely caused by Agent Orange.
The first round of grants went to Save the Children, East Meets West Foundation and Vietnam Assistance to the Handicap (VNAH) in Da Nang for rehabilitation programs, scholarships and vocational training for people with disabilities, and for disability rights advocacy.
In 2012, U.S. funding was allocated “for health/disability activities in areas in Vietnam that were targeted with Agent Orange or contaminated with dioxin.” This second round of funding, totalling $9 million, was granted to the for-profit company Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI) in partnership with VNAH, to conduct a three-year project to assist people with disabilities in Da Nang as well as in areas “where there was a high disability burden” and “in regions where dioxin hotspots are located.” Funding was distributed through this project to 14 local and international organizations, including War Legacies Project, to expand services to Quang Nam, Tay Ninh, Thua-Thien Hue, Binh Dinh and Dong Nai provinces that were all sprayed with herbicides. At its close, the project served 9,482 people with disabilities; 3,264 health and social service providers received training.
While this funding reached some people who may have been impacted by Agent Orange, advocates worked to ensure that the language in the U.S. appropriations bills also specifically covered those whose disabilities were likely caused by Agent Orange. By FY2015 the language of the appropriation focused on funding ‘to assist individuals with severe upper or lower body mobility impairment and/or cognitive or developmental disabilities” in areas that were “sprayed by Agent Orange and otherwise contaminated with dioxin.”