Photo Courtesy of USAF

Study finds link between high blood pressure, Agent Orange exposure

November 16, 2018 - 9:42 am

By: Julia Bergman

A new review of the health impacts of Agent Orange exposure found that there’s sufficient evidence of a link between hypertension, more commonly known as high blood pressure, and exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides.

The latest in a series of congressionally mandated reviews released Thursday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine upgrades hypertension from “limited or suggestive” evidence to “sufficient” evidence of an association with Agent Orange.

The authors of the review examined scientific reports published between Sept. 30, 2014, and Dec. 31, 2017, to come up with their findings, and said their decision to upgrade hypertension largely was motivated by research being done by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The review notes that while progress has been made to study the health effects of Agent Orange and other chemical exposure, “significant gaps in knowledge remain.”

From 1961 to 1971, the U.S. military sprayed herbicides — Agent Orange was the most common — over Vietnam to clear dense tropical foliage that provided enemy cover.

There are 14 diseases, including various cancers, presumed by the VA to be caused by Agent Orange exposure. Hypertension, a common health condition among Vietnam veterans, is not on the list. The VA has considered adding hypertension and other ailments to the list, but last fall former VA Secretary David Shulkin delayed any decision.

An estimated 2.6 million to 4.3 million U.S. military personnel served in Vietnam during the war, including John “Jack” Casey Jr., 72, a Navy veteran who lives in Groton.

Casey said he has a host of health conditions from his exposure to Agent Orange — “the gift from the government,” he calls it.

He ticks off his ailments: peripheral neuropathy, diabetes, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure and high blood pressure. He said it took him eight years to get a 100 percent disability rating from the VA, a cumbersome process that involved him tracking down documents to prove his case with help from the group Disabled American Veterans.

“A lot of veterans give up because they keep getting the same answer,” he said.

He’s watched as fellow Vietnam veterans have died of health conditions that he and others have. Casey recently attended the funerals of several vets in their 70s — “that’s not old age, no matter how you count it,” he said.