Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Depleted uranium from tanks, ammo not tied to Gulf War syndrome, new study finds


Depleted uranium in tanks and ammunition used in the 1991 Gulf War “played no role” in the unexplained illnesses, known as Gulf War syndrome, that veterans faced in the years afterward, according to a new study.

The findings by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the University of Portsmouth in England counter decades of understanding by the military and Department of Veterans Affairs about potential causes for a host of ailments that collectively are now known as Gulf War illness.

“That depleted uranium is not and never was in the bodies of those who were ill at sufficient quantities to cause disease will surprise many, including sufferers who have, over the last 30 years, suspected depleted uranium may have contributed to their illnesses,” said Randall Parrish, a uranium isotope expert at the University of Portsmouth who developed the study’s methodology to scan veterans’ urine for traces of exposure.

The study looked at depleted uranium levels in the urine of 154 veterans, of whom 106 had Gulf War illness symptoms and 48 did not.

The findings may provide a definitive answer on whether there is a connection between depleted uranium exposure and Gulf War illness because of the level of precision used to detect any isotopes in veterans’ urine and the time involved in the study, Dr. Robert Haley, the director of epidemiology at UT Southwestern, a Dallas-based research hospital, told McClatchy in a phone interview.


VA Needs Better Internal Communication and Data Sharing to Strengthen the Administration of Spina Bifida Benefits


Executive Summary The VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) reviewed key aspects of VA’s spina bifida program in response to wide-ranging concerns raised by Senator Michael K. Braun and by Vietnam Veterans of America. The concerns were about whether eligible individuals are receiving the compensation, health care, home services, and other related benefits to which they are entitled.1 Regular monthly payments under this small but critical program serving more than 1,000 beneficiaries with disabilities exceeded $20.8 million in 2019, and medical reimbursements topped $45 million. Spina bifida is a birth defect that occurs when a fetus’s spine and spinal cord do not form properly. An individual with spina bifida may suffer from nerve damage, paralysis, and bowel or bladder problems.2 Children born with spina bifida may receive benefits from VA if one of their biological parents is a veteran presumed to have been exposed to herbicides during the Vietnam War.3 Benefits can include monthly payments, vocational training and rehabilitation, and health care with services such as home care and case management. 4 The spina bifida program is jointly managed. The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) determines eligibility for benefits and issues monthly payments. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) covers all medically necessary health care, which includes all medical services and supplies, not just those related to spina bifida. The OIG assessed how effectively VBA and VHA carried out their respective responsibilities in managing the spina bifida program.


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Parkinson’s Foundation, VA Host Online Symposium for US Vets on March 20


A free virtual symposium about U.S. veterans, their families, and Parkinson’s disease (PD) is on tap for Saturday, March 20.

Called “Veterans and Parkinson’s Disease: What You Need to Know,” the three-hour Zoom event runs opens at 9 a.m. EST, and is presented by the Parkinson’s Foundation and the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA).

Those interested in taking part must register at or by calling 770-450-0792.

The symposium’s goal is to make veterans with Parkinson’s and their loved ones better aware of the latest in therapeutic advances, as well as of resources available through the VA and the foundation. Healthcare professionals and the broader Parkinson’s community are also welcome to attend.

“We understand that most people with Parkinson’s develop symptoms at 50 years of age and older. As the population ages, so will the number of Americans living with Parkinson’s, including veterans,” said John L. Lehr, president and CEO of the Parkinson’s Foundation, in a press release.

“Serving those who have served our country is a priority of the Parkinson’s Foundation and we’re honored to partner with the VA to provide this online program to help veterans live better with Parkinson’s disease.”

Of the estimated 1 million people with Parkinson’s in the U.S., some 110,000 are veterans. Of those, about half are at least 65. While what specifically causes Parkinson’s is unknown, scientists think a mix of genetic and environmental factors are likely culprits. Some research also suggests that a Parkinson’s diagnosis is associated with Agent Orange or other herbicide exposure from a veteran’s years of service, particularly during the years 1962 to 1975.


U.S. Bases in Thailand During the Vietnam War and Agent Orange

courtesy Dr. Wayne Dwernychuk, The Hatfield Group, Retired


Over the years of this writer’s service at the Library of Congress, veterans and their families have sent me questions about maps that show the locations of U.S. forces in Thailand during the Vietnam War. Chief among the reasons that they have sought this information is because some American personnel were exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Thailand. Agent Orange is an herbicide that was used to defoliate the thick jungle in Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, such as the Korean Demilitarized Zone. The intended result was to expose enemy forces who relied on the trees for cover. In Thailand, Agent Orange was used to clear the jungle around bases, as a means to enhance security. However, there was a terrible consequence: Exposure to Agent Orange resulted in cancer, birth defects, and other significant ailments. Public outcry and official investigations followed. In response to veterans and their families suffering from the effects of Agent Orange, the U.S. government makes a presumption of exposure for those who served on land in Vietnam for the purpose of filing a claim with the Veterans Administration. But in the case of veterans who served solely in Thailand, the Veterans Administration states: “To receive benefits for diseases associated with herbicide exposure, these Veterans must show on a factual basis that they were exposed to herbicides during their service as shown by evidence of daily work duties, performance evaluation reports, or other credible evidence.” This writer notes that the policy is source of debate, anger, and frustration for some American military veterans and their families. It should also be mentioned that the Veteran’s Administration outlines other situations where veterans may have been exposed to Agent Orange on their website.


Vietnam-era veterans who served in Guam were exposed to Agent Orange, report says


Updated research aims to help Vietnam-era veterans who served in Guam ill from Agent Orange exposure obtain disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Last year, two veterans groups published a white paper citing research to support that "as likely as not," veterans who served on Guam from 1962 to 1975 met the legal standard for exposure to Agent Orange and other "dioxin-containing herbicides." Now, the groups -- National Veterans Legal Services Program and Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law -- have released updated research expanding that timeline to include veterans who served on Guam from 1958 to 1980.

"The conclusion was based on an exhaustive review conducted over nearly two years of government, private, archival, and oral history evidence of herbicide use in Guam during the Vietnam era," the groups said in a news release about the research. The February update includes new developments and information on herbicide use in Guam gathered after the original paper was published in May 2020, including "an EPA-directed soil sampling report published in July 2020 and recently issued decisions of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals."

Veterans Affairs has approved 22,500 – 34% – of all Blue Water Navy claims filed after 14 months

Tens of thousands of American troops served on Guam during the Vietnam War and, at the height of bombing operations during the conflict, more than three-quarters of all U.S. B-52 aircraft available for operations were based in Guam. The rapid buildup of U.S. airpower in Guam, along with climate conditions on the island, housing and water shortages and other challenges, prompted military leaders to work to prevent fires and control tropical growth using the herbicides.

“This white paper confirms the reports of countless veterans who served in Guam but whose claims the VA has wrongly rejected,” Bart Stichman, executive director of NVLSP, said at the time of the initial report's release. “It is time that the VA acknowledge the strong evidence of toxic herbicide exposure in Guam and care for veterans exposed.”


Legacies of war, ironically, have brought Vietnam and the US closer together


By Chuck Searcy

Last month, completion of dioxin cleanup on a 5,300-square-meter tract of land at Bien Hoa airport marked a significant milestone.

Officials of both the Vietnamese and U.S. governments could derive satisfaction from knowing that the Agent Orange/dioxin legacy of war is now being addressed, after a troubling post-war history of misinformation and controversy, accusations and doubts.

Not just public officials, but veterans and ordinary citizens of both countries can take pride in looking back over the remarkable transformation that has taken place in the past two decades, from early years of mistrust and recrimination to a positive, working partnership between Vietnam and the U.S. today.

That relationship is now built on mutual trust and respect.

A cornerstone of our dramatically improved relationship is a clear, shared commitment between the people of both countries to address the legacies of war, Agent Orange/dioxin, explosive ordnance (EO), and wartime Missing In Action (MIA) personnel from all sides, in an open and honest manner. We now recognize that the humanitarian component of these challenges rises above politics and demands a concerted, selfless effort of all concerned.

How did we come to this point?

Twenty-five years after Vietnam and the U.S. normalized diplomatic relations on July 11,1995, is an appropriate moment to observe and reflect.

I have been a personal witness to this history: first, as a U.S. Army soldier in the war, in 1967-68, then as a veteran who returned to Vietnam in 1995 to try to contribute to the rebuilding, recovery, and reconciliation that was being painfully pursued by the Vietnamese. Working at the Swedish Children’s Hospital and Bach Mai Hospital in Ha Noi to provide orthopedic braces for disabled children, one of the first projects funded by USAID, I learned of the terrible toll in deaths and lifetime disabilities among ordinary people throughout Vietnam as a result of wartime bombs and mines still remaining in the ground.

I was shocked to discover that more than 100,000 Vietnamese had been killed or injured by explosive ordnance since the end of the war in 1975. When I and other Americans discussed this humanitarian tragedy with U.S. Embassy staff and other government officials, there was cautious agreement that this grim challenge needed to be addressed, yes, and it was an area in which the U.S. could provide assistance.


Experiencing Sexual Assault Doubles Odds That Troops Will Leave Military, Report Finds


U.S. military personnel who have experienced sexual assault are twice as likely to leave the military within 28 months of an attack, according to a new Rand Corp. report.

"Sexual assault and sexual harassment are associated with a wide range of harms to individual service members, but this study highlights another negative impact of these crimes -- higher rates of attrition and associated harms to force readiness," Andrew Morral, senior behavioral scientist at the nonprofit think tank and lead author of the report, said in a Rand news release on Tuesday.

"We estimate that sexual assaults and harassment of service members that occurred in a single year were associated with the premature loss of at least 16,000 person-years of service over the following 28 months."

The report, "Effects of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment on Separation from the U.S. Military," showcases the findings of the 2014 Rand Military Workplace Study, which the organization conducted for the Pentagon. Completed in 2019, the Rand document was "recently cleared for publication by DoD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office," according to the news release.


VA's Complicated Vaccine Priority System Causes Disparities, Confusion


The Department of Veterans Affairs may be out ahead of many states and federal entities in vaccine administration, but the complexity of deciding who is eligible for the vaccine and when has still left many confused and frustrated.

So far, the VA has administered 1.26 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine; 305,197 veterans and employees had received both doses as of Monday.

To decide who has priority for the limited vaccine supply, the VA uses an algorithm to sift through its databases and prioritize veterans. But it also considers other factors, such as local availability of vaccine doses, clinical resources and requirements at each hospital or clinic, and the number of COVID-19 infections in an area.

VA officials say the approach has allowed the department to vaccinate a large number of individuals in a relatively short period of time.

Some veterans, however, say they don't understand why they haven't been contacted, despite being what they believe is considered "high risk."

"My husband, a Vietnam vet, has not been contacted to get the vaccine. ... He is 77 with health issues," said a veteran's spouse in the Dallas-Fort Worth area who asked that her name not be used because she wanted to keep her husband's identity private.

He eventually got an appointment through the City of Dallas, not the North Texas VA Health System, she said.

"He had to wait in a car in line for four hours in Dallas to get his vaccine. It was grueling," she added.

Others cited similar problems in other parts of the country.


A new era for Veterans Affairs, and the committee that oversees it


The Veterans Health Administration is marking its 75th year. Now that Denis McDonough is confirmed as the new veterans affairs secretary, what will his overseers on Capitol Hill be most concerned with? For some answers, Federal Drive with Tom Temin turned to the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Montana’s Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

Tom Temin: Senator, good to have you on.

Jon Tester: Tom. Thank you.

Tom Temin: Alright so, we do have a confirmed VA secretary now and you are now the new chairman of the committee in the Senate. What are your expectations writ large for VA in the next couple of years?

Jon Tester: Well, I think first of all, it’s good to have Denis McDonough as secretary of the VA. He’ll be a point of contact that everybody can use in Congress, they’re able to make sure that the VA does the best job possible of getting the vaccines and getting them in the arms of the veterans around this country. I think that’s really critically important. They’ve done a good job so far. But there has been a holdup in the amount of vaccines as has been across the country.


Friday, February 12, 2021

In Memory Program 2021 Deadline Fast Approaching


What is In Memory?

Since the Vietnam War ended, thousands of Vietnam veterans have suffered due to Agent Orange exposure, PTSD and other illnesses as a result of their service.  The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) believes all those who served in Vietnam should be honored and remembered for their service.  The In Memory program enables the families and friends of those who came home and later died the opportunity to have them be forever memorialized. ​​​​​​​

The plaque on the grounds of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial site in Washington, D.C. that honors these veterans was dedicated in 2004 and reads:  In Memory of the men and women who served in the Vietnam War and later died as a result of their service. We honor and remember their sacrifice. 

In Memory was created in 1993 by the group – Friends of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. VVMF began managing the program and hosting the ceremony in 1999. More than 4,700 veterans have been added to the In Memory Honor Roll since the program began. To see all the honorees, please visit the In Memory Honor Roll.


Friday, February 5, 2021

U.S. to pay billions to Marines affected by contaminated drinking water


WASHINGTON — After years of waiting, veterans who were exposed to contaminated drinking water while assigned to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina may now be able to receive a portion of government disability benefits totaling more than $2 billion.

Beginning in March, the cash payouts from the Department of Veterans Affairs may supplement VA health care already being provided to eligible veterans stationed at the Marine base for at least 30 cumulative days between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987. Veterans will have to submit evidence of their diagnoses and service information.

Outgoing VA Secretary Bob McDonald determined that there was “sufficient scientific and medical evidence” to establish a connection between exposure to the contaminated water and eight medical conditions for purposes of awarding disability compensation.

The estimated taxpayer cost is $2.2 billion over a five-year period. The VA estimates that as many as 900,000 service members were potentially exposed to the tainted water.

“This is good news,” said retired Marine Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, whose daughter Janey was born in 1976 while he was stationed at Lejeune. Janey died from leukemia at age 9. Ensminger now heads a veterans group, The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, which advocates for those seeking disability compensation.

“This has been a hard, long slog,” said Ensminger, who argues the government must go further in covering additional diseases. “This is not the end of the issue.”

The new rule being announced Friday covers active duty, Reserve and National Guard members who developed one of eight diseases: adult leukemia, aplastic anemia, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease.


COMMENT | Who were the victims of Agent Orange in Malaya?



Reading a recent wire service report in AP about seeking justice for Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange, I was reminded of a letter I had written to The Star, nearly 40 years ago. The AP's article refers to the case in the French court taken up by a French-Vietnamese woman Tran To Nga who is suing 14 companies that produced and sold the powerful defoliant dioxin used by US troops during the Vietnam War. Here were echoes of a letter on this subject I had written to The Star dated March 30, 1984:

“It is a national tragedy that we had to wait until the lifting of the 30-year secrecy rule in Britain before we realised the scandal that our country (Malaya) was the first country on earth to fall victim to Agent Orange.”

In 1984, the British journal New Scientist revealed that the British army had used a herbicide identical to Agent Orange during the emergency in Malaya (1948-60). But it was not an “exclusive” – four years before that, when the Soviet Union was being accused of using chemical warfare against the Afghan people, the French Le Monde Diplomatique had revealed that the British army had also done the same in Malaya during the emergency.

In my article, I pointed out that it was criminal that British officials, ICI (the chemical company involved) and Malayan officials had kept all this health hazard from the public. Until 1984, only those records relating to events up to 1952 had been revealed and they showed that at least 20 sites in west Pahang had been sprayed with this toxic herbicide.


Ottawa Should Apologize for Role in Agent Orange Use in Vietnam


A French legal battle offers an opportunity to revisit Canada’s role in chemical weapons use and whether Ottawa owes something to its Vietnamese victims.

On the weekend activists gathered in Paris to support a court case launched by a woman exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam. The group Collectif Vietnam Dioxine is supporting French-Vietnamese woman, Tran To Nga, who is suing 14 companies that sold the powerful defoliant dioxin to the US military.

As a member of the Vietnamese Communists (Viet Cong) Nga breathed Agent Orange in 1966. She told the Associated Press “because of that, I lost one child due to heart defects. I have two other daughters who were born with malformations. And my grandchildren, too.” Spread between generations through breast milk, food and the water supply, Agent Orange victims’ children and grandchildren are often born with serious disabilities.

The toll the cancerous chemical had on Vietnam is staggering. Some three million Vietnamese were exposed to a defoliant that can cause immune deficiencies and damage one’s nervous system. Between 1962 and 1971 US forces sprayed 11 million litres of Agent Orange in southern Vietnam.