Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and develop Parkinson’s disease (PD) may be eligible to receive VA health care and disability compensation.
Many Vietnam era veterans have experienced complex medical conditions. Exposure to toxic chemicals used in wartime has been thought to contribute to illness onset. Now in their 60s and 70s, these servicemen and women have reached an age that is typically associated with the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
Yet years of scientific studies suggest there are no conclusive findings as to a direct causative relationship between Agent Orange and Parkinson’s disease. Exposure to other toxic elements that were added into the herbicide may have contributed to the onset of Parkinson’s and other medical conditions. These findings were reported by The Health and Medicine Division (formerly The Institute of Medicine, of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine) that has been studying the long-term health effects of exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides since 1994.1
Agent Orange is a chemical mixture of herbicides that was designed to destroy crops and vegetation. It’s known for its use in the Vietnam War between 1962-1971, when the US military sprayed it to improve visibility for US troops in the jungle. Agent Orange reduced tree canopies and minimized the ability of enemy forces to hide.2 It got its name because of the orange stripe around the barrel in which it was stored.3
2.6 million military personnel served in Vietnam, Korea, Thailand and the area’s inland waterways during those years and may have been exposed to Agent Orange.4
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative neurological movement disorder. Although scientific research is advancing, there is currently no known cause or cure. Genetic and environmental factors are both thought to contribute to cause PD. Exposure to certain chemicals, including Agent Orange, may also trigger a genetic predisposition to developing Parkinson’s, as can head injuries and other environmental factors.
People with PD experience damage to nerve cells in the brain that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. The reduction or absence of dopamine results in changes in a person’s movement and emotions. Treatment for PD is individualized. The first line treatment is generally with dopamine replacement medications that reduce tremors and muscle rigidity, and improve motor function.
Possible connections to Agent Orange
During the summer of 2010, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published a regulation adding Parkinson’s to the list of conditions that may have been caused by exposure to Agent Orange.5 Selected other medical conditions that may be linked include:6
- Diabetes Type 2
- Prostate Cancer
- Ischemic heart disease
- Respiratory cancers
- Multiple myelomas
Veterans with PD who were exposed to Agent Orange during military service and their families may be eligible for VA health care, disability, or survivor payments.7 VA offices and government websites can help locate available local services and forms needed to apply for medical, compensatory, and monetary benefits.
Where to learn more
The Parkinson’s Disease Research, Education and Clinical Centers (www.parkinsons.va.gov/) are a consortium of VA clinics around the country that treat veterans with movement disorders, in addition to Parkinson’s disease.8 Beginning in 2003, these centers have been dedicated to helping veterans get the medical care they need and to raise awareness of PD in veterans. It is a helpful resource for news and updates on the progress being made in research and treatments.
To find out more about eligibility for free health exams and other benefits, visit the VA website at https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/benefits/registry-exam.asp 9