Parkinson's Disease and Military Veterans

With Memorial Day recently passing, I would be remiss if I did not address the recent scientific discovery of exposure to manufactured toxins linked to Parkinson’s disease (PD) among our military service members.

Links between chemical exposure and Parkinson's

Within the last decade or so, there has been scientific evidence that directly or indirectly connects exposure to certain chemicals as a correlation to the onset of PD. Although there are ongoing studies into the conclusive cause and effect of the suspected toxins found in various chemicals in question, there have been few definitive answers.

Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs have however extended the presumption of disability to military and civilians associated with the exposure. It goes without saying that some of our bravest men and women served our country faithfully and honorably.

As a grateful nation, we have an obligation to take care of those who served and who gave their lives in her defense. There are many exposure cases pending decisions and scientific evidence being compiled but I will defer my comments to two of the most common studies that have been decided.

What is Agent Orange?

Typically associated because of its orange label on its container, agent orange is one of a number of herbicides used during the Vietnam War to kill the overgrowth of the jungle in Vietnam that provided cover and concealment for the enemy.

The aerial spraying campaign was carried out using various aircraft which would lay down a thick blanket of the chemical that would stick to everything it came in contact with including military uniforms and equipment. The main toxic chemical Dioxin, which is known to be associated with various cancers and birth defects, is also linked to other diseases as well. U.S. military bases where these chemical agents were stored remain contaminated to this day.
The U.S. Government stopped spraying agent orange in 1970, but it still contaminates soil today.

In 2010, after decades of intense advocacy by the former Parkinson’s Action Network, Congress passed legislation that directed the VA to treat those who were linked to exposure during the Vietnam Era and were later diagnosed with PD. The VA created a criteria and treatment protocol for assisting veterans who believe they were exposed and later developed PD, including monetary settlements.

Exposure to volatile organic compounds

U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina was established in 1942. In 1982, the Marine Corps discovered specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the drinking water provided by two of the eight water treatment plants on base. Among those were the chemicals perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), 1-2 dichloroethylene (DCE), and Benzene.

These compounds are known to have cancer-causing properties and cause birth defects as well as other conditions and neurological diseases. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) determined that the high concentration of cases was a direct result of the disposal practices of a specific dry cleaner and industrial spills in the area. A report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) claimed toxic levels existed from 1957 to 1987.

In 2017, again advocates from the former Parkinson’s Action Network took to Capitol Hill and advocated for including PD as a presumptive disability and a treatable condition by the VA due to the water contamination at Camp Lejeune. This issue affects me personally because I served there as a veteran of the Marines.

I urge any member of the military or if you were a civilian working at Camp Lejeune to file a claim if you experienced any illness.

Importance of Parkinson's advocacy

Not to be all doom and gloom. This is a serious issue that affects a lot of people with PD and other diseases including myself. Personally, I feel that scientific research is closing in on certain causes for developing PD and the acknowledgment by our government agencies.

I encourage you to be your own advocate. Stand up for your rights to a healthy environment and ask questions of those that include positions of influence and demand answers. Although these are two examples of recognized links to PD, I realize there are other case studies of intentional or unintentional toxic contamination of our environment. If we take action today, we can make the future better for our children and grandchildren.

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