Health Effects of Exposure to Herbicide Orange in South Vietnam Should Be Resolved

CED-79-22: Published: Apr 6, 1979. Publicly Released: Apr 6, 1979.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) carried out military herbicide operations in South Vietnam from 1962 to 1971. Herbicide Orange, the most widely used herbicide, contains a contaminant, dioxin, that is highly toxic. Its effects on laboratory test animals have been studied; however, long-term health effects on humans remain largely unknown. In late 1977, Veterans Administration (VA) regional offices began receiving compensation claims from veterans who felt that some of their medical problems were caused by exposure to herbicides in Vietnam. Vietnam veterans also began contacting VA health care facilities to express concerns over possible herbicide exposure. By September 1978, about 600 veterans had been examined at VA health care facilities and about 450 had submitted claims to regional offices.

VA has been hampered by the lack of information on long-term health effects of herbicides, and VA has established an interagency advisory group to assist in evaluating the medical aspects of herbicide exposure. Since there are no specific records on herbicide exposure, VA is having difficulty identifying veterans who were exposed to herbicides. DOD officials believe that those most likely to have been exposed were herbicide handlers and aircraft crews flying herbicide missions. VA health care facilities have been instructed to examine any veteran concerned about herbicide exposure, and VA regional offices have been instructed to evaluate herbicide-related claims. Not all veterans submitting claims to regional offices are being referred to VA health care facilities for examination, however, and VA regional offices have not been instructed to obtain information from military records concerning the likelihood of an individual veteran's exposure to herbicides.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense, with the assistance and guidance of an appropriate interagency group, should conduct a survey of any long-term medical effects on military personnel who were likely to have been exposed to herbicides in South Vietnam. The Secretary should also provide guidance to ensure that Air Force, Army, and Navy medical facilities are uniformly monitoring and evaluating possible herbicide-related concerns of personnel who served in Vietnam. Information developed through DOD medical facilities should be coordinated with VA. The Administrator of Veterans Affairs should provide guidance to ensure that, in evaluating herbicide-related claims, regional offices obtain all information from military records pertaining to a veteran's possible exposure to herbicides in Vietnam. All veterans submitting such claims to regional offices should be encouraged to contact VA health care facilities.

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