Veteran Alert: VA Recognizes Agent Orange as Cause of Illness

More than 35 years after the end of the Vietnam War, the VA has finally acknowledged that Agent Orange is responsible for a variety of diseases, including cancer

Syracuse, New York 10/14/2009 11:07 PM GMT (TransWorldNews)

In an announcement that prompted a collective sigh of relief and satisfaction from the American Legion and scores of Vietnam vets nationwide, the Department of Veterans Affairs recently recognized the herbicide Agent Orange as a contributor to the development of three diseases that regularly plague those who fought in the jungles of Vietnam, where the chemical was widely used to kill dense foliage.


Though many consider the proclamation “too little, too late”, Veterans Affairs, prompted by a report compiled by the Institute of Medicine, announced this week that Agent Orange is a contributor to the development of hairy cell leukemia – a very rare form of cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, and ischemic heart disease. It has also been unofficially linked to a host of other diseases, such as asthma, pleurisy, tuberculosis, thyroid disease, and more. Many veterans suffering from these diseases seek costly treatment at veteran medical centers nationwide.


From 1962 to 1971, an estimated 21 million gallons of the toxic chemical was sprayed in the jungles of Vietnam. Intended to decrease the density of the foliage there in order to make it difficult for enemy troops to conceal themselves, it also sickened and killed both soldiers and civilians who came in contact with the herbicide.


Many liken the effects of Agent Orange on the veterans of the Vietnam Conflict to the effects of asbestos on those veterans who served during World War II and the Korean War. During that era, veteran asbestos exposure was at its highest and large numbers of those who toiled in U.S. shipyards later developed mesothelioma, a severe form of cancer attributed only to asbestos exposure.


Mesothelioma attacks the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart and is caused when tiny asbestos particles become lodged in those areas and cause scarring and, in some cases, cancerous tumors. The disease can remain latent in the body for up to 50 years, and when symptoms finally surface, the cancer is in advanced stages. At that point, mesothelioma treatment is only minimally successful.


However, doctors like thoracic oncologist Dr. David Sugarbaker of Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute continue to work to develop new ways to successfully treat the many veterans and others who suffer from malignant mesothelioma. Founder of the International Pleural Mesothelioma Program, Sugarbaker focuses on multi-modal treatment of the disease and has dedicated much of his research to finding ways to improve the life expectancy of mesothelioma victims.


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