HD45 - Report of the Department of Veterans' Affairs Agent Orange Task Force

Executive Summary:
Agent Orange was, and still is, a chemical used to kill unwanted foliage. In Vietnam it was used to defoliate jungle growth to take away the enemy's natural hiding place. There are numerous studies linking dioxin, agent orange and others, as a carcinogen and a cause of many illnesses, particularly cancer.

The studies of Vietnam veterans have been flawed or incomplete but it is reasonable to assume a statistical connection between that of exposed civilians and exposed Vietnam veterans. For that reason there are major diseases that are presumed to be linked to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. The following have shown sufficient evidence of an association:

Soft tissue sarcoma
Non-Hodgkins's lymphoma
Hodgkin's Disease

The following have shown limited suggestive evidence of an association:

Respiratory cancers
Prostate cancer
Multiple myeloma
Acute and subacute peripheral neuropathy (new disease category)
Porphyna cutanea tarda (category chance in 1996)
Spina bifida (new disease category - relates to children)

I could go on and on about other diseases where sufficient evidence has not been clearly established to determine an association with Agent Orange. The conclusion, however, is that Agent Orange exposure for Vietnam veterans and their families is not a myth or minimal thing.

(Most of the above summarized information came from the latest reporting from the Institute of Medicine.)

There is no data available to show how many Virginia Vietnam veterans were exposed and how many are on the Agent Orange register. The following numbers can be assumed to be proportionate to Virginia.

Number in Agent Orange Registry nationwide: 250,054
Number of VA claims: 75,084
Number of VA approved claims: 3,678

The task force believes there is enough evidence to support informing all Virginia Vietnam Veterans of the potential results of Agent Orange exposure. The previous statistics appear to discount the effects the Vietnam veterans are experiencing and that the "DVA" is taking care of the problem. The probable truth is the majority of Vietnam veterans were "Citizen Soldiers," drafted, served their country, returned home and were discharged from the military to continue their lives. Because of the emotional and political upheaval during the later stages of the conflict, this group of veterans tried to put the war behind them and pick up their lives as citizens.

Most did not stay informed or even admitted to their involvement in the armed forces because of the social and economic stigma attached to veterans. During the late 80's and 70's these same veterans adopted the mantra of their civilian counterparts to wit: Limited or no knowledge of the emerging war related health problems and issues to themselves and their children. Most believed that affected veterans were being provided help and finally, that the class action suit brought against the chemical companies resolved any outstanding health care and financial issues.

The list of dioxin related health risks continues to grow as the body of knowledge increases through research, documentation, and formal publication by the National Academy of Sciences. The VA is ready, willing and able to help when a veteran in need asks for assistance. The problem is the outdated methods of information delivery and no organized program of continuing education. Statistics show that the majority of Vietnam veterans continue to be dioxin ignorant and to a greater extent, subsequent generations of the veteran families.

Currently, there is no generational specific program. However, they need to be educated about the "at risk" position the dioxin issue has placed upon them and be vigilant in detection of known health problems.

It is a statistical fact that the citizen soldier veteran of Vietnam is a "giver of self," not a "taker of others," which is why the task force and its information based programs are as necessary today, as it was 30 years ago and will be 30 years from now.

Lou James
Virginia Agent Orange Task Force