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VA Recognizes Agent Orange Link to More Diseases

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 20, 2009 – Based on an independent study by the Institute of Medicine last month, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki has directed broader health coverage from his department for Vietnam War veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange.

Research found that three illnesses – B cell leukemias, Parkinson’s disease and ischemic heart disease -- possibly are associated with Agent Orange exposure. Those conditions join a list of related diseases for which Vietnam War veterans already receive compensation, such as prostate cancer, respiratory cancers, soft-tissue sarcomas, Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

"Since my confirmation as secretary, I've often asked why, 40 years after Agent Orange was last used in Vietnam, we're still trying to determine the health consequences to our veterans who served in the combat theater," Shinseki said in a statement provided by VA today to American Forces Press Service. "Veterans who endure a host of health problems deserve timely decisions."

Veterans who served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975 may qualify for monthly disability compensation and do not have to provide proof they were exposed to Agent Orange to qualify for health benefits.

“We must do better reviews of illnesses that may be connected to service, and we will,” Shinseki said in statement released last month. “Veterans who endure health problems deserve timely decisions based on solid evidence.”

The U.S. military used Agent Orange herbicides in the Vietnam conflict from 1961 to 1971 to clear foliage that provided enemy cover. VA officials estimate that about 2.6 million military personnel who served in Vietnam were affected.

U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman, released a statement today calling for additional support of the Agent Orange Equity Act of 2009. The bill expands eligibility for presumptive conditions to veterans who were not directly “boots on the ground,” such as sailors and pilots.

Current law suggests that location of service in Vietnam affects some of the qualifications for Agent Orange compensation.

“Time is running out for these Vietnam veterans,” Filner said. “Many are dying from their Agent Orange-related diseases, uncompensated for their sacrifice. If, as a result of service, a veteran was exposed to Agent Orange, and it has resulted in failing health, this country has a moral obligation to care for each veteran the way we promised we would.”

About 800,000 Vietnam veterans are estimated to be alive today and eligible for treatment for Agent Orange-related illnesses. According to VA’s Web site, the department presumes all military members who served in Vietnam were exposed to Agent Orange. Also, some children of female Vietnam veterans may qualify for compensation, based on birth defects associated with the chemicals.

Contact Author

Biographies:
Erik K. Shinseki

Related Sites:
Veterans Affairs Office of Public Health and Environmental Hazards
Department of Veterans Affairs



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