By Carolyn Ballou, California Department of Veterans Affairs
May 2, 2013 (Sacramento)--U.S. Air Force veteran George Chappell was a fuels specialist in Vietnam. He worked on all kinds of aircraft, including those used to dump the toxic herbicide Agent Orange over the jungles to expose enemy hiding places. At age 60, George was diagnosed with Stage 4 mantel cell lymphoma. He died just 18 months later. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (USDVA) presumed that George’s disease was the result of his Agent Orange exposure 40 years earlier.
The USDVA presumes that 14 different diseases and disorders are related to Agent Orange exposure when diagnosed in “boots-on-the-ground” veterans and certain other veterans groups. Certain birth defects in the children of Vietnam veterans may also be the result of Agent Orange exposure.
Early diagnosis and treatment are a veteran’s best hope for cure or successful management of an Agent Orange-related disease. Following is a list of the diseases and disorders presumed by the USDVA to be related to Agent Orange exposure and the symptoms associated with these diseases:
AL amyloidosis is a rare disease caused when amyloid proteins are abnormally deposited in tissues or organs. Affected organs may include heart, kidneys, liver, bowel, skin, nerves, joints, and lungs.
- Symptoms: fatigue, anemia (low red blood cell count), weight loss, numbness and tingling in limbs.
Chronic B-cell Leukemia
Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells. B-cells are a specific type of lymph cell that affect a body’s immune system. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is characterized by production of an excessive number of white blood cells.
- Symptoms: persistent fatigue, weakness; frequent infections; weight loss without trying; swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen; easy bleeding or bruising; tiny red spots in the skin; and bone pain or tenderness.
Chloracne is a rare skin eruption of blackheads, cysts and nodules, which has been linked directly to dioxin exposure. Mild forms may resemble teenage acne.
- Symptoms: excessive oiliness of the skin and the appearance of numerous blackheads, often accompanied by fluid-filled cysts and dark body hair. In mild cases, blackheads may be limited to the area around the eyes, extending along the temples to the ears. In more severe cases, blackheads also may appear in other places, especially over the cheek bone area, other facial areas, behind the ears, and along the arms. Severe chloracne may lead to open sores and permanent scars.
Skin may become thicker and flake or peel. The condition fades slowly after exposure. Minor cases may disappear altogether, but more severe cases may persist for years after the exposure.
Diabetes Mellitus Type 2
Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects the body's ability to use blood sugar for energy. In type 2 diabetes mellitus, the body does not produce enough insulin or the body's cells ignore the insulin.
- Symptoms: blurry vision, excessive thirst, fatigue, hunger, frequent urination, and weight loss.
Hodgkin’s disease is one of two common cancers of the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system.
- Symptoms: fever, fatigue, night sweats, itching, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Painless swelling in the lymph nodes in neck, armpits, and groin also may occur.
Ischemic heart disease
Ischemic heart disease is a medical condition of reduced blood flow and oxygen to the heart. Over time, this damages and weakens the heart muscle making it difficult for the heart to fill and pump blood to the rest of the body. Ischemic heart disease is a common cause of congestive heart failure. People with this condition may at one time have had a heart attack, angina, or unstable angina—sometime with no previous symptoms.
- Symptoms may include: chest pain behind the breastbone or slightly to the left of it. It may feel like tightness, heavy pressure, squeezing, or crushing pain. The pain may spread to the neck, jaw, back, shoulder, or arm. Other symptoms include dizziness or light-headedness, and feeling of indigestion or heartburn.
Multiple myeloma is a cancer caused by an overproduction of certain proteins from white blood cells. It is characterized by plasma cell tumors in bones in multiple parts of the body.
- Symptoms may include: There are often no symptoms until the disease progresses. Symptoms include bone pain, unexplained bone fractures, repeated infections, weakness or numbness in the legs, abnormal proteins in the blood or urine, anemia, fatigue, and high level of calcium in the blood.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a type of cancer of the lymph glands and other lymphatic tissue, which are part of the body’s immune system that help to fight infection and disease.
- Symptoms may include: swollen, painless lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin areas in early stages. Other signs and symptoms may include fever, night sweats, fatigue, weight loss, abdominal pain or swelling, chest pain or trouble breathing, itchy skin.
Parkinson's disease is a degenerative brain disorder that leads to shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with walking, balance, and coordination.
- Symptoms may include: tremor, or trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face; rigidity or stiffness of the limbs and trunk; slowness of movement; and impaired balance and coordination.
Peripheral neuropathy is a condition of the peripheral nervous system, which consists of nerves outside the brain and spinal cord. The acute or sub-acute ("early-onset") form of peripheral neuropathy refers to symptoms occurring within weeks after exposure. (In chronic cases, effects appear much later.) It is a temporary condition.
- Symptoms may include: numbness, tingling or prickling in the toes or fingers in early stages. This may spread to the feet or hands and may cause burning, throbbing or shooting pain that is worse at night. Other symptoms include pain equally in both sides of the body (in both hands or in both feet), muscle weakness, loss of balance or coordination, and extreme sensitivity to touch.
Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
Porphyria cutanea tarda is a disorder characterized by thinning and blistering of the skin in sun-exposed areas.
- Symptoms may include: blisters on areas of the skin exposed to the sun such as the face, arms, and hands followed by crusting and scarring; hyperpigmentation; increased hair growth on areas exposed to the sun; and liver damage.
Prostate cancer is cancer of the prostate, a small gland in the male reproductive system.
- Symptoms may include: urinary problems, such as trouble urinating or stopping and starting when urinating, though these problems more often result from noncancerous prostate. Blood in urine or semen and discomfort in the pelvic area also can develop.
Respiratory cancers are cancers of the lung, larynx, trachea, and bronchus.
- Symptoms may include: Symptoms vary, depending on the location of the cancer but may include a new cough, dry cough, or cough that doesn’t go away, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, chest pain, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, voice changes, sore throat or earache, feeling of a lump in the throat.
Soft Tissue Sarcomas
Soft tissue sarcomas are a group of cancers in body tissues such as muscle, fat, blood and lymph vessels and connective tissues (that is, distinct from hard tissue such as bone or cartilage). These tumors are relatively rare.
- Symptoms may include: There are often no symptoms in early stages. The first noticeable symptom is usually a painless lump or swelling. As the tumor grows, it may cause other symptoms, such as pain or soreness.
If you are a Vietnam veteran who has symptoms similar to any of those associated with the USDVA Agent Orange presumptive diseases, tell your healthcare professional right away.
Vietnam veterans and other U.S. veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange or other toxic herbicides during military service may be eligible for:
- Agent Orange Registry health exam—a free exam for possible long-term health problems related to herbicide exposure. Veterans who served in Vietnam, the Korean demilitarized zone or other areas where Agent Orange was sprayed may be eligible.
- Health care benefits—a full range of medical benefits. There are many ways a Veteran may qualify.
- Disability compensation—monthly payment for diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure during military service. Veterans with qualifying service in Vietnam or the Korean demilitarized zone are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. Other Veterans may be eligible if they show on a factual basis that they were exposed.
Children who have certain birth defects and are biological children of Vietnam-era veterans with qualifying service in Vietnam or Korea may be eligible for USDVA compensation, health care, and vocational training.
Spouses and dependent children of living veterans also may be eligible for health care and other USDVA benefits.
Surviving spouses, dependent children and dependent parents of veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service and died as the result of diseases related to the exposure may be eligible for survivors' benefits.
For more information about veteran health, including military exposures, diseases and conditions, treatments, wellness and more, go to www.publichealth.va.gov/index.asp.
To learn about your state and federal veterans benefits or how to file a claim, contact the San Diego County Veterans Service Office. To find the office nearest you, go to www.cacvso.org, click on “Contact Us,” and then click on “San Diego.”