“Sufficient” Evidence Linking Hypertension to Agent Orange Exposure: Report
Recent findings from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine show that there is “sufficient” evidence linking the development of hypertension (high blood pressure) with Agent Orange exposure. This classification is an upgrade from its standing in the previous report, when research indicated there was only “limited” or “suggestive” evidence linking the condition to herbicide exposure. Thousands of Vietnam veterans would be eligible for new or additional VA benefits if the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s findings are implemented into law.
Adding hypertension to VA’s list of presumptive conditions would mean that Vietnam-era veterans with “boots on the ground” service in Vietnam or along the Korean DMZ between certain years would not need to prove that their hypertension is directly related to military service. VA assumes Vietnam-era veterans who served in these areas were exposed to herbicides during service. Other Vietnam-era veterans, such as those stationed in Thailand, may be eligible for service connection for Agent Orange-related conditions if they can prove on a facts-found basis that they were exposed to herbicides during service.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are required to review current scientific information about exposure to Agent Orange and release a report every two years, per an order of Congress. In a past report from 2016, the National Academies recognized that there was “limited” or “suggestive” evidence linking hypertension, bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinson’s-like tremors with herbicide exposure. This is a similar level of evidence VA used to add ischemic heart disease and Parkinson’s disease to the list in 2010. Although the National Academies have recommended these conditions be added to the list, it still sits with the Office of Management and Budget.
Currently, the list of health conditions VA associates with exposure to Agent Orange includes:
- AL Amyloidosis
- Chronic B-cell Leukemias
- Diabetes Mellitus Type 2
- Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Ischemic Heart Disease
- Multiple Myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Peripheral Neuropathy
- Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
- Prostate Cancer
- Respiratory Cancers
- Soft Tissue Sarcomas
Veterans groups are now calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to add hypertension to the list of presumptive diseases related to Agent Orange exposure. This change, however, could come at a significant cost to VA. When VA last updated the list to include ischemic heart disease and Parkinson’s Disease, it payed $42 billion in additional expenses over ten years.
This comes at a time when Vietnam-era “blue water” Navy veterans who served off the coast of Vietnam with no “boots on the ground” service might see relief after years of fighting for benefits. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 extends the same presumption of exposure to Blue Water Navy veterans as those with “boots on the ground” service.
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