VA: Agent Orange effects may be worse than believed

Gayle S. Putrich, The Navy Times, November 10, 2006
The lasting effects of Agent Orange and dioxin-based defoliants like it could be even more far-reaching for Vietnam War veterans than originally thought, putting vets at greater risk for developing heart disease, diabetes and respiratory problems, according to a recent Department of Veterans Affairs study.
The study was conducted by a research team under the direction of Dr. Han K. Kang, director of VA’s War Related Illness and Injury Studies Center. The study appears in the November issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
Kang and his team compared 1,500 members of the Army Chemical Corps — who handled aerial chemical drops and other sprays — against about 1,400 veterans who had worked with chemicals but did not serve in Vietnam. All the participants were surveyed by phone in 1999 and 2000.
Subsets of both groups also participated in physical evaluations. Blood tests of 795 Vietnam veterans and 102 non-Vietnam vets showed the Vietnam vets had elevated levels of dioxin in their blood.
Vietnam veterans who were exposed to the chemicals showed a 50 percent increased risk of diabetes, a 52 percent increased risk of heart disease, a 32 percent increased risk for high blood pressure and a 60 percent greater chance of developing chronic respiratory problems, such as emphysema or asthma.
“Almost three decades after Vietnam service, U.S. Army veterans who were occupationally exposed to phenoxyherbicide in Vietnam experienced significantly higher risks of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and non-malignant lung diseases than other veterans who were not exposed to herbicides,” the study says.
Agent Orange and other chemicals like it were sprayed across Vietnamese jungles and around U.S. military camps during the Vietnam War to cut down on the amount of cover available to the enemy. About two thirds of the herbicides used during Vietnam contained dioxin.
The same week Kang’s study was published, two nonprofit groups signed agreements with the government of Vietnam.
The Ford Foundation, which seeks to reduce poverty and promote international cooperation, committed to a $2.2 million donation to study the long-term effects of dioxin agents in Vietnam and to provide health services to Vietnamese who now suffer from disabilities because of exposure to the chemical defoliants.
And the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation signed on to extend an existing five-year agreement with the Vietnamese defense ministry to continue a survey of unexploded ordinance across the country. Between 350,000 and 850,000 tons of shells, bombs and land mines are still strewn across the countryside, according to the Vietnamese government.

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