- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 25, 2003


Agent Orange, a defoliant used by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War, has been linked to a chronic form of leukemia suffered by former service members, leading the government to extend compensation to veterans with the disease.

"A re-evaluation of evidence now supports an association between exposure to herbicides used during the Vietnam War and the development of a specific form of leukemia in veterans," according to the U.S. Institute of Medicine at the National Academies.

At the request of the Department of Veterans Affairs, researchers reassessed six studies on exposure to herbicides that were sprayed in Vietnam. Their conclusions, released in a report Thursday, prompted the department to extend benefits to Vietnam veterans with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).

"Compelling evidence has emerged within the scientific community that exposure to herbicides such as Agent Orange is associated with CLL," Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi said.

"I'm exercising my legal authority to ensure the full range of VA benefits is available to Vietnam veterans with CLL."

Mr. Principi's ruling means that veterans with the disease will not have to prove that their illness is related to their military service to qualify for compensation.

Previous studies of links between herbicide exposure and cancer risk had looked at all forms of leukemia collectively a method now deemed "inadequate or insufficient" by the Institute of Medicine.

The latest conclusions found that CLL, while classified as a type of blood cancer, has many similarities with Hodgkin's disease and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma both diseases that have already been linked to Agent Orange.

"The similarities between CLL and lymphomas which we have long known to be associated with exposure to the types of chemicals used in Agent Orange and other defoliants began to raise questions about whether CLL should be considered separately from other forms of leukemia," said study committee Chairman Irva Hertz-Picciotto, professor of epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The U.S. military used 14.82 million gallons of Agent Orange to deny communist guerrillas food and cover from jungle vegetation during the decade-long war that ended with a Vietnamese victory in 1975.

Spraying was halted in 1971 after it was discovered the spray contained a dangerous carcinogen.

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