WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. veterans exposed to the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War may face an increased risk of high blood pressure, an expert panel said on Friday, citing what it called limited but important evidence.
The report by a panel of the U.S. Institute of Medicine was the latest in a series issued every two years assessing the health effects of exposure to Agent Orange and other chemicals used as herbicides by the U.S. military in Vietnam.
The panel, which reviewed about 350 epidemiological and animal studies, also pointed to evidence linking those chemicals to AL amyloidosis, a rare disease in which protein builds up around organs.
Those findings add both conditions to a list of Agent Orange-linked health problems that already includes several rare cancers, type II diabetes and birth defects in the children of the veterans exposed.
The findings may bring veterans one step closer to getting government-paid medical services for these conditions.
The panel said recent studies of Vietnam veterans who handled Agent Orange and the other defoliants offered evidence that they had elevated rates of high blood pressure.
The University of Kentucky’s Hollie Swanson and other members of the panel said the evidence for both of the links is limited or suggestive, but still persuasive.
“It’s important to know what things might be associated with Agent Orange exposure, given the number of people exposed. Many of them are in their 60s now, late 50s,” panel member Richard Fenske of the University of Washington said in a telephone interview.
“They’re getting to a stage in their lives where certain kinds of diseases may become evident that may not have been evident in youth,” Fenske added.
Researchers are still trying to understand exactly how toxic contaminants in these herbicides, particularly the chemical TCDD, cause damage, Swanson said.
The Department of Veterans Affairs must now decide if it will formally recognize the link between Agent Orange exposure and these conditions, according to Jerry Manar, an official with the group Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States.
If it does, the report will help hundreds of thousands of veterans get treatment in VA medical centers for hypertension and associated heart disease and strokes, Manar said.
“This relieves a huge burden from veterans,” he added.