VA pays for Agent Orange-related illnesses despite lack of evidence

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

Hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans are being compensated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for illnesses the agency says are related to Agent Orange, as Associated Press reporter Mike Baker found. On the face of it, that might not be particularly surprising. Agent Orange has been convincingly linked to cancer and a number of other ailments. But, and here’s the interesting bit, the illnesses most Agent Orange-exposed veterans are being compensated for – things like diabetes and erectile dysfunction – have never been authoritatively linked to the defoliant.

Because of worries about Agent Orange, about 270,000 Vietnam veterans — more than one-quarter of the 1 million receiving disability checks — are getting compensation for diabetes, according to Department of Veterans Affairs records obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act.

More Vietnam veterans are being compensated for diabetes than for any other malady, including post-traumatic stress disorder, hearing loss or general wounds.

Tens of thousands of other claims for common ailments of age — erectile dysfunction among them — are getting paid as well because of a possible link, direct or indirect, to Agent Orange.

Not only that, but the list is growing. The VA has announced it will add chronic B cell leukemias, Parkinson’s and ischemic heart disease to the list of conditions that it will “presume to be related to Agent Orange and other herbicide exposures.” This means even more common, aging-related illnesses will be covered by the VA, an expensive proposition.

The agency estimates that the new rules, which will go into effect in two months unless Congress intervenes, will cost $42 billion over the next 10 years.

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29 thoughts on “VA pays for Agent Orange-related illnesses despite lack of evidence

  1. Gerald

    As a veteran who served in Vietnam ( honorably ) sometimes it’s very har to understand why it’s such a fight with our own government to get help with the problems that we would never have suffered had we stayed home.

    I work in a VA. hospital and I hear it everyday, every single day I work, how many vets are denied benefits or how long it takes them to get compensation. Diabetes is ( according to the VA. ) is a presumptive agent orange disease, but you won’t get compensated unless you have to take insulin shots.

    Some Vietnam vets try to live a healthy lifestyle and still come down with the disease, but through trying to live a healthy lifestyle only have to take an oral medication, which causes more problems. I only have one thing to say about the
    politicians “quit stuffing your freaking pockets and help these men” Now.

  2. Pedro S. Garza

    When I came home from the Nam in 1970, I neverthought I was going to have all these medical conditions. It started with diabetes,bone loss( especialy in the gum area, teeth startyed to fall, problems with my feet (still ongoing), bad eye vision, after several lasor treatments and operation on one eye, the problems still exist. I have already been declared blind, the VA still tries to reduce my compensation. I am experiencing hearing problems as well, my bones hurt, I have been told I have an enlarged colon, still the VA is not convinced that I am hurting. I have also been diagnosed with kidney desease and vascular desease,still the VA has dropped my disability rating from 100% down to 90%. My PTSD has also got me down, distressed, stressed out . I no longer am the person I was before I was drafted and send to the Nam. Due to the bone loss I have been so depressed due to lost of my teeth and having to wear dentures that will not stay on, it is so humiliating not being able to enjoy a meal, especialy with my family and loved ones. I usually eat at home, away from others, so I can drop off the dentures and try my best to chew what ever food I can. I have been told the diabetes is a result fro the agent orange which I was very much in contact with while in the Nam. Well, I guess I just have to keep on fighting for what I need to try to live a decent life. Uncle Sam, I need your help, as well of thousands of other troopers who placed their lives on the line. Please help.

  3. John P Merrill

    As a Army vet I did two tours in Nam. I’m service connected with Irritable bowel syndrome and would like to find out how many other Nam. veterans have this same problem. But are not service connected.

  4. Ron

    I’m a vet that was in Vietnam. I suffer from peyronie’s disease. i was just wondering if anyone else suffers from this and thinks it could be related to agent orange.

  5. yvonne

    my husband has IBS also did you file a claim for this? sometimes he is so miserable . please let me know. He was in vietman 1968-1970 USMC thanks, his wife

  6. richard golden

    Ron, i was in Dak To, Vietnam, 67-68. I am being compensated for ischemic heart disease and an achilles tendon torn in country. I also have Peyronie’s, increasing ED, and billateral peripheral neuropathy, unexplained and am not getting compensated for them. Interestingly, I was surrounded by hills with no vegetation on them. I am a medical doctor. please email me, and any others with similar complaints, email me also

  7. Lester Snyder

    Dr. Golden, I too am being compensated for IHD (at 10% (presumptive agent orange list-Vietnam 1970-71)), I also have the following which I haven’t pursued ED, enlarged prostate, a combination of arthritis types including rheumatoid and ankylosing spondylitis and also periodontal disease. Where do I find your email address?

  8. Dave Boykin

    I was on the USS O’Bannon, up the mouth of the Saigon River, where the planes flew over, the ship is now classified, as a brown water ship, so I am finally getting some compensation. Some of my issues are IHD, arthritis in knees, spine and hands, loss of teeth because of bone loss even though I ever had a cavity, ED for 20 yrs, Parkinson’s which is going to be checked as I shake so bad I drop things like food all over my clothes, type II diabetes, prostate problems, skin cancer and the list goes on. My family does not have any of these health issues, but they were never exposed to Agent Orange, either. I feel, like many of you, we should be 100% disabled, as we have to use canes, walkers, electric carts all of the things that keep us partly active and we are much too young, by the standards these days to be disabled.

  9. TOM HAINES

    Ron and Richard, add me to the list of those with Peyronies and increasing ED. I talked with another Vietnam Vet who strongly believes there is a connection. He had talked with others that felt the same. Has a study regarding this connection ever been done? If so I would like to see the results. Thanks.

  10. hector salas

    I served in Vietnam 68-69 as a medic with. the 25th infantry division in Dau tan, chuichi and tan nan and all over that part of the north and the dmz . today i am suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, lost of teeth skin cancer. P.T.S.D….E.D. three divorces.and two children with learning disabilities.. and the V.A. tells me none of that is related to agent orange… when i first applied for compensation, and they asked me to look at a map and find the place, where i was station,It was not on the map.

  11. Amanda

    My father served in air force Thailand and said he sprayed it there and in California on Travis air base. Anyone else? He had been denied benefits in the 90 for anxiety and gave up after.
    I have RA, my father had heart failure . any suggestions…

  12. Mark S. Bauman

    I am suffering from ED, arthritis, bowel problems, cronic pancreatitis which had help from anti seizure medicine and arthritis medicine that was taken together for more than 5 years and am currently awaiting results from my claim for throat and double lung cancer. I was in and out of Vietnam (all over) from 70-75 with C-130s C-141s and rescue and recovery. Now I’ll have to wait until the claims that are all over 1 year old get settled. By the time I see any compensation I’ll probably be on my last leg in a civilian hospital because the closest VA that could treat me is 200 miles from home.
    I was under the impression that presumptive meant you would be approved right away to help defray some of the incendental costs.

  13. Teresa

    My dad suffers from a number of ailments. He was in Vietnam in 1968, I believe it was. He has had many problems, but his latest and most painful issue is RA. He has all four types of RA and is in constant pain. He takes a chemo pill daily, as well as Enbrel injections weekly. Has anyone experienced any RA symptoms that were subjected to Agent Orange? He had it literally sprayed on him and I can’t help but think that’s what has my dad, my HERO, in such bad shape.

  14. S Hansen

    I have been diagnosised with Idiopathic Hypereosinophilic Syndrome, a very rare blood disorder closely related to lymphoma and Luekemia. I served 2 tours in Vietnam arriving in Saigon on Feb. 3rd 1968 during the TET offensive. During my second tour I was in Na Trang. Both locations are in the red zones on the VA agent orange maps. I have filed a claim with the VA but am told I have to find a connection between the disease and agent orange.

    Hypereosinophilic Syndrome is when a particular white blood cell, known as an eosinophil, over produces causing the white blood cell count to sky rocket out of control. It can be controlled with medication but it is otherwise an incurable condition. It is also deadly because the disease will cause major organ failure. This disease hit me suddenly and without warning. It is unknown why I have it. there is no family history of any blood disorders. The eosinophil white blood cell fights parasitic infections and allergies. I have neither.

    I would appreciate any help in substantiating my claim.

  15. Purnell Ross, Jr, CMSGT USAF Retired

    I gave thirty (+) years of my life serving and protecting my country. Today I suffer with a verity of medical problems such as heart, type II diabetes, erectile dysfunction, skin (Planters Palmers psoriasis) teeth that developef fishers and most broke – off at the gum level. I am Loosing a great deal of weight to to problems eating.
    I was stationed at Takhli Thailand from 1965-1966. I understand the the VA recently acknowleged that Agent Orange was also used on and near Air Bases in Thailand. I worked on aircraft that was sweating Agent Orange, probably the results of flying in and through it. I hate to say it but maybe some common sense need to be injected into the VA.

  16. thomas schlichting usn

    I GET 40% FROM THE VA FOR MY DIABETES MELLITUS TYPE II I PUT IN FOR ED BUT WAS DENIED 15 YEARS I HAVE HAD ED AND BEEN DENIED WAKE UP VA!

  17. gladys

    My husband served three times vietnam and yes he has lost all his teeth also. He had prostate
    cancer and trouble with his lungs. He was a young man when he had the cancer so that put a
    strain on our marriage. I tried to file years back and was told he only had cancer. Well why
    put it on the list if its only cancer.

  18. Marty Wilder

    My husband is 100 percent VA disabled because of diabetes and other health issues. But he also has rheumatoid arthritis which apparently is not linked to Agent Orange. He has extremely high levels of fatigue and pain and I never know if it’s from the rheumatoid arthritis or from something related to the dioxin contamination. He seems to have symptoms that go beyond RA — and RA is bad, trust me. It would make me feel better if I just knew the reason for all his suffering. My best to you other Vietnam vets. We waited SEVEN years before getting disability pension so hang in there!

  19. Rick

    I was diagnosed with IBS (colitis) while in the Navy (68-72) and get 30% . I eventually went on to use sulfasalazine for years for maintenance to keep episodes down. 2010 was diagnosed with gallbladder cancer and at the same CT found kidney cancer. Later found the GB cancer had metasticed to the liver. VA hasn’t admitted so far that people with IBS can possibly be more suseptable to GB cancer than people that don’t have it. I have found many references to the two being related. IBS and Biliary Tree cancer, is often seen together. Many people with GBC also have IBS. No sale to the VA as yet. Now here is another strong coincidence for me…Regarding the long term use of sulfasalazine, the side effects of allergy causing irritation/inflamation of the liver and biliary tree long term. The drug works by getting absorbed and going through liver making changes to it and being reentered into the intestine, some is expelled in stools and some through the kidney giving you darker urine, the process takes like 10 hours. If you want to cut down on your IBS episodes you take the sulfasalazine regularily anyway even though your liver function numbers are up telling you something is wrong. I say the drug irritated not only the GB to cancer but the kidney too. A case of the treatment turning to disaster, anybody else see this, the literature says it’s relatively safe for m o s t people but not saying all. ….Irritated bowels and irritated biliary go together and further ,,,,a slight reaction to the therapy is more than reasonable to assume a connection that the long term IBS and its therapy caused my GB cancer at least and quite possibly the kidney too. Would anyone give information that would agree with this, please?

  20. Vincent J. Labella Sr

    I served in SE Asia from 1968 through 1969. I was stationed In Thailand and TDY’d to many bases all of which had been defoliated with Agent Orange. I was with “Combat Camera” and photo intel. Took me to a lot of places where it was used. I never gave it thought until PSD reared it’s head years later. I developed hematuria , blood in the urine about a year after discharge in 1971 and have it ever since. Diagnostic studies say I have an irritated prostate gland an may lead to cancer. The VA so far hasn’t determined if Agent Orange is the cause. I have done nothing else to cause this 45 year situation. I have been told by others that applying for the Agent Orange study is a waste of time.
    What if any have any of you guys experienced? Any advise would be helpful.
    Thanks
    Vinnie

  21. Robert Perez

    My dad developed cancer in 2005 and past away 3 months after discovering it. He served in Vietnam between 1967-1968. I’ve never been sick or had any type of disease, not even a broken bone but towards the end of 2011 I started experiencing symptoms of RA. Now in 2014, I have severe RA to the point I can’t work but disability won’t approve me because they said under their rules I can do substantial work earning way less then I was making before. I’ve worked all my life since I was 16. I’m now 44 and can’t get any help from disability or the VA. I’m 44 and want to get back to work but none of the medication given to me so far works. Out of a 7 day week, I maybe have 2 good days. My sister also suffers from lupus. We have no history of these diseases in our family and the only connection is my dad and his service.

  22. Jason

    My old man was in vietnam, you can now add him up as another with type 2 diabetes and heart problems, teeth fell out too, and just to top it off I was born with one of those birth defects listed as presumed to be from agent orange, was dead for a short while from it too. He had no idea until 1 week ago (this is 2014!!!!) that he can be compensated for it. Great job military!

  23. Nancy Watkins

    My husband was stationed in Dong Tam in 67,68 and 69. He was married before we got together in
    69 and his son from his first marriage is perfectly healthy which was conceived before he went to
    Nam. Unfortunately….. I cannot say that about our children. So just to let you know they are not
    getting any help from the VA. My husband has not worked since 1984 and has one problem after
    the other and is in a wheelchair. He’s supposedly had Labryinthis, hope I spelled that right, does have a damaged cerebellum, had a quadruple heart bypass at the age of 55, that does not run on my husband’s side of the family, cancer does. He was told back in the 70′s that he had a high blood fat. He came back from Nam 155 lbs for a 6 ft person, so where do they get high blood fat. when he was 61 he had surgery for a blockage carotid artery. He’s had what the Rhuematoid Dr called Spondyolathropathy, (hope I spelled that right too.) since back in the early 80′s. He has no or I should say hardly has any teeth, ED, and when he was in Viet Nam he had his shoulder stomped on and this last year he dislocated it 55 times due to a fall. He is at 80% disabled with the VA but we have had to fight for that much. PTSD is a big problem for him. I WOULD JUST LIKE TO KNOW HOW THE VA CANNOT CONSIDER HIM FULLY DISABLED AFTER KNOWING THAT HE WAS A “CONSTRUCTION ENGINEER” MOWING DOWN ALL THE SPRAYED FOLLAGE SHIRTLESS BECAUSE OF THE HEAT IN ONE OF THE WORST SPRAYED AREAS! THANK ALL OF YOU VETERANS THAT SERVED OUR COUNTRY!!!!!

  24. Jim Millsap

    I was stationed at Tuy hos Republic of Vietnam from 1966-67. I had a number of occasions to fly military to various south Vietnam areas on official business. I have most of the problems other vets have as a result of being exposed to agent orange. My question is why does it take such a long period of time to receive compensation after your case file is submitted and analyzed. With adequate verification with a
    DD 214 and doctors reports, what seems to be the problem? If a veteran qualifies, why is there such a prolonged delay?

  25. Cheryl

    My husband was in Vietnam and served there for 78 days in 1965. He will be 69 this year. He had a heart attack in 1983 when he was 38 years old.. He also had severe periodontal disease when we got married two years prior to that. He has suffered with Coronary Artery Disease (Ischemic Heart Disease); stomach problems, Freiberg’s syndrome, COPD; Irritable bowel syndrome; Degenerative arthritis; sclerotic patella/spurs/joint effusions; vascular calcification; ED; reflux; severe gastritis; Raynaud’s Disease; Peripheral arterial disease with leg claudication; Artery stenosis; Small vessel disease of both hands; left leg inflow disease. Distal atrial disease; aneurysms; calcified iliac arteries; chronic back pain; thoracic radiculopathy; degenerative arthritis/thoracic spine; thoracic neuropathy/diabetes; Degenerative spinal disease; Lateral epicondylitis; L5-S1 radiculopathy, spinal stenosis, bulging disc ; L4-5 canal stenosis ; L1-2 bulging disc; L2-3 spinal stenosis; L3-4 moderate stenosis & acute radiculopathy; L4-5 bulging disc, radiculopathy & severe facets spurring; Herniated disk; Cervical lymphadenopathy; abdominal aorta aneurysm, Diabetes; Distal vascular disease; Le Riche syndrome; superficial fem/pop artery disease; enlarge thyroid; cervical myalgia; De Quervain’s tenosynovitis; hypertension; Advanced degenerative arthritis; Degenerative joint disease; Diabetic neuropathy; Actinic keratosis (precancer); rotoscoliosis; Heart block (pacemaker put in); severe bradycardia; Enlarged prostrate; insulin dependent diabetes; Triple bypass surgery. And now he has blood in his urine and we have to see the urologist. Thirty one years of continual health problems. We just found out that he could get help through the VA. But he should have done it years ago. I hope it doesn’t take that long. The Veteran Affairs guy said they were going to do the fast track on this, so my question is (what is fast?0

  26. laura cosgrove

    My husband was rated 100% disabled by the Veterans Administration in 2003. He was disabled due to colon and prostate cancer, also peripheral neuropathy, type 2 diabetes, hearing loss, erectile disfunction plus other disorders. In 1999 or 2000, my husband was seen by the great doctors at the VA hospital in Oregon with symptoms of both prostate and colon cancer and tests were never ran on him. The doctors presumed the had hemmeroids. After being diagnosed with both cancers we tried to request copies of his medical records and were told that they were lost. He was treated for both cancers and was doing better in 2003. Later we moved to Nevada and his cancer became more aggressive. After being on chemotherapy he had two strokes probably due to the chemo. Later, when my husband could barely walk or not have a bowel movement in his underwear, two doctors had agreed to sign my husband up for a scooter. When we tried to get the scooter the therapists told my husband he didn’t need one because he could walk. I informed him he could only walk a short distance without crapping his pants, becoming winded, or just falling down. They didn’t care. Later, the last week before he died, we called the VA emergency because my husband fell about six times that day,, but the last one almost landed him in the bathtub along with me. The VA said they couldn’t take him because their weren’t any beds available, so they deferred us to Renown hospital in Reno. While he was their his stomach was supposed to get drained, due to all of the fluid that was building up in his abdomen. The doctor agreed, but said they had to wait on blood tests. When the results of the blood tests came back the doctor told us there was a clotting problem, but they were going to drain him anyways. Then they decided they were going to move him upstairs. The next day came and went. I asked the nurse ,about the procedure and she said they had to wait another day. After the third day rolled around, I had to go to the patient’s advocate to find out what was going on. Apparently, there was a code yellow, he was bumped, and the doctor didn’t write stat on his chart so he died. I went to the administration office and said that I thought that the doctors hastened his death. It took the hospital over a month to write a letter to me and it was partially a lie. Then to make matters worse, the doctor who pronounced my husband’s death, never actually treated or even looked at my husband, just his chart. While he was in the hospital, they never checked his blood sugar or much less anything else. I was so mad. After my husband’s death, I filed for his month of death check and his DIC. His of death check came about 4 months later and his DIC was denied. They refused to pay for his funeral, they only paid for his plot and the 21 gun salute. I am still fighting his claim though. The VA does not list colon cancer as a presumed illness, even though you can have prostate cancer that travels to the colon, then liver, then lungs. On the AMA website it says that Agent Orange causes colon cancer as does the Dow Chemical website. but the VA says no. My husband and I were together for 30 years and the US Army killed him. I have heard of other widows receiving DIC due to colon cancer, but I cannot find any information about that. Does anyone out there know any other information, or what I am doing wrong. My husband did his service for his country and I think that his country should do their service. Also, both of my children that I had with my husband have learning disabilities. This process takes far too long and the Va lies. If these veterans hadn’t serrved their country, perhaps we wouldn’t have the freedoms that we have now. This country of ours has given a great disservice to our veterans and should be ashamed. Top it off now, my son who was so gung-ho to go in the military, now has health issues after being deployed to Afganistan. This is just great. Please help if you have any answers for me, I would appreciate it and GOD bless all of you.

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