A new report released by the Institute of Medicine suggests more diseases may be linked to exposure to Agent Orange, a defoliant used by U.S. forces to strip jungles during the Vietnam War.
The findings, which were categorized as “limited or suggestive,” suggest people exposed to the chemical are more likely to develop ischemic heart disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Though inconclusive, the results are an important step for veterans groups such as Vietnam Veterans of America, who intends to write a letter to the secretary of Veterans Affairs, requesting extended benefits.
The findings add to a growing list of conditions that could be linked to the defoliants, including leukemia, prostate cancer, type II diabetes and birth defects in the children of the veterans exposed.
The IOM committee has linked 17 conditions to exposure of the chemical since 1994. Of those, 13 qualify veterans for service-connected disability benefits provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In 1991 Congress passed the Agent Orange Act. Legislation which directed the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to request the Institute of Medicine to evaluate scientific and medical information associated with the health effects of exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides used in Vietnam.
To determine whether Vietnam veterans faced a greater risk of ischemic heart disease – a condition which involves reduced blood supply to the heart – the panel reviewed studies that showed a link between higher exposure levels and greater incidence of the disease.
They noted factors such as age, weight and smoking, can also play a role. Still, they said veterans exposed to the chemicals may be at greater risk.
The link to Parkinson’s disease was based on a review of 15 studies that examined herbicide exposures among people with the disease or Parkinson’s-like symptoms. The study cautions, that the review was hindered by the lack of studies investigating Parkinson’s rates among Vietnam veterans.
Between 1962 and 1970, more than 20 million gallons of herbicides were sprayed in the jungles of Vietnam so that American forces could fight more effectively; Agent Orange was the herbicide used most often to accomplish this goal. #