WASHINGTON – Although it’s taken more than one year of review, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is considering adding six new suspected diseases to its list of illnesses that are caused by exposure to Agent Orange.
The new diseases include bladder cancer, Parkinsonism (Parkinson-like symptoms), hypothyroidism, stroke and hypertension.
The possible additions were announced in November by U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David J. Shulkin.
“After thoroughly reviewing the National Academy of Medicine latest report … I have made a decision to further explore new presumptive conditions for service connection that may ultimately qualify for disability compensation,” Shulkin said.
Veterans Affairs has recognized certain cancers and other health problems as suspected diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure and other herbicides during military service. When included, veterans and their survivors may be eligible for benefits for the diseases.
The move comes as welcome news to Glendale resident Scott Phillips, a bladder cancer survivor and Vietnam veteran.
“There’s no history of any cancer in my family, and I’ve wondered for a while if this happened from Agent Orange because there are other types of cancers linked to its use,” Phillips said. “It’s encouraging to see that the VA is looking to expand its benefits coverage.”
Agent Orange is an herbicide and defoliant chemical widely known for its use by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971.
U.S. Marine Bud Watts, commander of Lake Havasu’s Disabled American Veterans’ Post 27, also is pleased Veterans Affairs is paying attention to overwhelming evidence that Vietnam era vets are suffering with diseases like hypertension and bladder cancer in alarming numbers.
“There are too many veterans out there suffering from the same illnesses that the VA finally had to open its eyes and except the evidence, and I think (Secretary Shulkin) is much more receptive than the VA (leadership) in the past,” Watts said. “But, for something like this there has to be more studies because it will be far reaching for veterans who I’m sure will submit claims.”
This is a huge issue for Watts, having served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969, and witnessing just how aggressive Agent Orange was as a defoliant.
“The jungle was sprayed sometimes on a daily basis,” Watts said. “Once you started taking fire from the tree line or wherever you were, you would call it in and two or three days later there wasn’t a leaf on a tree anywhere. It was some pretty nasty stuff that they were putting out there.”
Along with the anticipated additions to the Agent Orange list, Veterans Affairs has begun offering benefit coverage from water contamination to veterans who served at Camp Lejeune, N.C. from the 1950s through the 1980s.
The drinking water at Camp Lejeune is believed to have been contaminated with industrial solvents, benzene and other chemicals.
Veterans Affairs has established a presumptive service connection for veterans, reservists, and National Guard members exposed to contaminants in the water supply from Aug. 1, 1953 through Dec. 31, 1987, and who later developed adult leukemia, aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes, bladder, kidney cancer and liver cancers, multiple myeloma, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease.
For more information, call 928-505-4616.