California Democrat Robert Filner, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, filed legislation last month that if passed, would finally force the Department of Veterans Affairs to recognize a link between exposure of Agent Orange and Vietnam veterans with Parkinson’s disease (PD).

California Democrat Robert Filner, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, filed legislation last month that if passed, would finally force the Department of Veterans Affairs to recognize a link between exposure of Agent Orange and Vietnam veterans with Parkinson’s disease (PD).


The bill, H.R. 1428, would add PD to the list of diseases presumed to have been incurred in or aggravated by military service in Vietnam and therefore compensable under veterans' disability compensation.


In a letter to House colleagues to garner support for the bill, Filner wrote there are a number of medical conditions presumed to be associated with exposure to certain herbicides for veterans who served in Vietnam. Among them are Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, soft-tissue sarcoma, chloracne or another acne form disease, Hodgkin’s disease, respiratory cancers, multiple myeloma and Type 2 diabetes.


Alan Oates is one such veteran now suffering from Parkinson’s disease. He was diagnosed in 2006.


Oates served in the Army from 1967 to 1987 before retiring as a first sergeant. From 1968 to 1969, he served in Vietnam with the 1st and 9th Infantry Divisions.


 According to Oates, the link between Agent Orange and PD in Vietnam veterans was established by a Stanford study that shows Vietnam veterans are 2.6 times more likely to incur Parkinson’s than Vietnam Era veterans.


A Mayo clinic study published in 2008 also connects 2,4-d to PD.


Oates’ tour of duty in Vietnam coincided with the heaviest use of Agent Orange from 1968 to 1970. The chemicals, both herbicides – known as 2,4-d and 2,4,5-T – were used in a 50-50 mix to Agent Orange.


“It’s the most potent dioxin known to man,” explained Oates. “They measure the strength of all other dioxins to this one.”


The civilian agriculture community, he noted, used 2,4,5-T as an herbicide. When produced for military use, according to Institute of Medicine Agent Orange studies, it was up to a thousand times more potent.


More than 20 million gallons of herbicides (363,000 55-gallon drums), most being AO, said Oates, was used during spraying operations from 1961 to 1971. The heaviest usage took place when the American military had its highest troop levels in Vietnam.


Making matters worse was the multifunction use of the barrels that were discarded.


“They were used to make bunkers, latrines, BBQ grills and showers,” said Oates.


In addition to Agent Orange, Vietnam veterans were also exposed to malathion, an insecticide sprayed by aircraft to eliminate the threat of malaria, which was spread by mosquitoes. Malathion, said Oates, was directly sprayed over troop areas on a regular basis.


According to a BMC Neurology Duke University study published in March 2008, the insecticide is significantly associated with the increase in PD.


Oates has met with VA officials to press his case for compensation for Vietnam veterans afflicted with Parkinson’s. Among them are doctors Mark Brown, the VA’s leading Agent Orange expert and Robert Ruff, who leads the VA’s six Parkinson’s research centers across the country.


According to the VA’s Web site, PD is one of the most common neurologic disorders affecting some 1.5 million Americans


The Veterans Health Administration treats an estimated 40,000 veterans with PD each year. In 2001, the VA strengthened its commitment to veterans with PD and related movement disorders by establishing the Parkinson’s Disease Research, Education and Clinical Center (PADRECCs) network.


Clearly, the VA recognizes the significant impact PD has on veterans’ lives. But for now, the VA does not consider the disease to be presumptive of service in Vietnam, despite the link established by published studies.


By contrast, said Oates, Public law 102-4 establishes presumptive herbicide exposure for veterans who set foot in Vietnam or inland waterways. However, he added, only certain diseases are presumptive, including those listed by Filner.


In 2007, veterans suffering with PD formed the U.S. Military Veterans with Parkinson’s (USMVP). The group now has more than 200 members lobbying Congress to pass H.R. 1428.


“We’re a grassroots organization. Everything we’ve done has been on a zero dollar budget. We’ve taken the money out of our pockets,” said Oates.


For more information, e-mail Oates at usmvp@aol.com.


Bruce Coulter is the editor of the Burlington Union and a retired, disabled veteran. He may be reached at 978-371-5775, or by e-mail at bcoulter@cnc.com.