Tuesday, July 12, 2016

VA officials pledge new studies into effects of Agent Orange

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is expanding its efforts to determine how Vietnam veterans and their children have been affected by exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange.

The VA will conduct its first nationwide survey of Vietnam veterans in more than three decades and request an outside panel of experts to continue its work studying the health effects of Agent Orange on veterans, their children and their grandchildren. Both initiatives were discussed recently by ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot on the possible multi-generational impacts of Agent Orange.

Vietnam veterans have argued for years that their exposure to the toxic herbicide has damaged their health as well as their children’s. From 1965 to 1970, some 2.6 million U.S. service members were potentially exposed to Agent Orange, which contained a dangerous strand of the chemical dioxin. While the VA has linked Agent Orange exposure to a host of diseases in Vietnam vets, experts and veterans advocates have criticized the lack of research into the effects on future generations.

“I believe that these individuals deserve an answer,” Linda Spoonster Schwartz, the VA’s assistant secretary for policy and planning, said in response to a question about the lack of research. “I believe that we need to at least ask the question. … This is the right thing to do.”

ProPublica and The Pilot have been examining the effects of Agent Orange for the past year and have heard from more than 5,500 veterans and their families. Thursday’s forum – titled A Toxic Legacy: Has Agent Orange Hurt the Children of Vietnam Vets? – featured veterans advocates, researchers and policy makers. It also provided a rare opportunity for frustrated veterans to vent directly to high-ranking VA officials. Veterans came from as far away as Mississippi and Pennsylvania to share their stories. Pilot photographer Stephen M. Katz told of his own health problems, which he believes may be linked to his father’s exposure to Agent Orange.


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