(Beyond Pesticides, November 9, 2017) Vietnam veterans suffering from certain Agent Orange-related health conditions will continue to wait for compensation. U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin announced last week he intends to delay a decision to expand coverage to new illnesses. Despite a robust review by the National Academy of Medicine, which recommended expanding disability compensation for bladder cancer, hyopothyroidism, high blood pressure, and Parkinson’s-like tremors due to past exposure to the toxic herbicide cocktail, the VA decided to take no action.
“After thoroughly reviewing the National Academy of Medicine (NAM)’s latest report regarding Veterans and Agent Orange, and associated data and recommendations from the NAM Task Force, I have made a decision to further explore new presumptive conditions for service connection that may ultimately qualify for disability compensation,” Secretary Shulkin said in a press release last week. “I appreciate NAM’s work and the commitment and expertise of VA’s NAM Task Force, and look forward to working with the Administration on the next steps in the process.”
Given a promise from VA Secretary Shulkin to provide a decision on the new ailments by November 1st, Veterans groups are crying foul, and placing blame on the Trump administration, particularly the Office of Management and Budget, which approves new federal expenditures. “If you can afford the goddamn war, you can afford to take care of the warriors,” Rick Weidman, legislative director of Vietnam Veterans for America said to ProPublica.
Under the Agent Orange Act of 1991, NAM was tasked with publishing biennial reports evaluating current scientific evidence linking Agent Orange of adverse health conditions in veterans. These reports are conducted for 10 years after the release of the first report, and the recent NAM update represented the final assessment. Although released in March of last year, because Congress allowed the law to expire, it eliminated a 60-day deadline for the VA to act on new information raised in the NAM report.
Although the VA will currently cover health care related to 14 conditions, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, prostate cancer, ischemic heart disease, type two diabetes and others, the veterans suffering from hypothyroidism, high blood pressure, tremors without a Parkinson’s diagnosis, and bladder cancer have been denied the ability to receive compensation. An exposé by ProPublica revealed the difficulties veterans have experienced in attempting to receive coverage for bladder cancer diagnoses, despite confirmations from multiple doctors.
Veterans groups hope that Secretary Shulkin will provide a final decision as soon as possible. If ultimately approved, the silver lining in a decision on new covered illnesses is that all expenses associated with the disease will be covered retroactively for veterans that qualify.
Agent Orange was given its name because it was stored in orange striped drums and contained the active ingredients 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. This formulation was contaminated with the highly toxic 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (also called TCDD or simply dioxin) and is now banned. However, 2,4-D is still one of the most widely used herbicides on lawns, school grounds and parks today. It has been linked to cancer, liver damage and endocrine disruption in humans in addition to being toxic to wildlife, pets and beneficial insects. Moreover, previous research from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did detect dioxin contamination in a number of 2,4-D herbicide products produced for consumer sale.
For more information about the legacy of Agent Orange, see previous Daily News stories on the issue, or view Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide Induced Diseases Database. Help veterans in your community by supporting veteran owned businesses and nonprofit organizations. Veterans looking to go into the organic industry after their service can explore Rodale Institute’s Veteran farmer training program.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.