I have to say that I’m glad the VA has the responsibility to figure out this incredibly complicated Agent Orange problem and not me. Up until this point I have felt like I had no way to really know if their problem was Agent Orange related, and no good published guidelines were available from the VA. All I could really do was refer vets back to the VA system when they asked me if I thought a concern of theirs might be related to Agent Orange exposure. I felt a bit guilty because it seemed like the VA itself couldn’t figure out what conditions they considered valid Agent Orange related and which ones they did not feel were related. Just this summer the VA published its final regulations. Who knows what makes this set of regulations final, but that’s what they are calling it, so it’s good to at least be able to tell veterans that the VA now has regulations to use to decide on their case.
The list of conditions potentially covered by the VA as being Agent Orange related is pretty extensive. A problem with evaluating these concerns is that many of the disorders that have been implicated as linked to Agent Orange exposure are common problems in people not exposed to Agent Orange. I always tried to explain to patients that I had no way of knowing if their diabetes, ischemic heart disease, or other problems were caused by Agent Orange or not. As most of you probably know Agent Orange was a mixture of chemicals used as a defoliant in Vietnam by the US military to destroy vegetation being used by the Viet Cong to hide. I was in the Army, but fortunately my term of service was after the US withdrew from Vietnam. In the office I’ve seen lots of veterans over the years who have been concerned about Agent Orange exposure and its relationship to various health care problems they have experienced. The August 31, 2010 final regulations state that the VA has established a link between Agent Orange and Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Other disorders that have been linked to Agent Orange exposure include:
- Chronic Lymphocytic Lymphoma and other B Cell Leukemias.
- Acute and Subacute Peripheral Neuropathy.
- Hodgkin’s Disease and Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
- Multiple Myeloma.
- Numerous birth defects in women exposed to Agent Orange.
Veterans who have Agent Orange exposure and develop these disorders may be eligible to benefits and or compensation from the VA for these health problems. Although it is easy for physicians, especially those younger physicians not familiar with the Vietnam Agent Orange fiasco to downplay these veterans concerns, it serves us well to at least be aware that these links have been established, and that the VA has in place a mechanism for evaluation and potential compensation and health benefits to veterans exposed to Agent Orange who develop these problems.