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What Is the Connection between Ischemic Heart Disease and Agent Orange?

By Marlene de Wilde
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The connection between ischemic heart disease and agent orange has been sufficiently proven to lead to the addition of the condition to the list of diseases associated with agent orange by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. This means that Vietnam veterans who saw active duty between 1962 and 1975 and suffer from ischemic heart disease can receive benefits and compensation. According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the link between ischemic heart disease and agent orange is not definitive, but sufficient to suggest there is a cause and effect relationship between them.

Ischemic heart disease is characterized by a reduction in blood supply and oxygen supply to the heart which can lead to plaque building up in the arteries. It is a common cause of congestive heart failure and the leading cause of death in industrialized countries. The list of risk factors contributing to ischemic heart disease include high cholesterol, smoking, high blood pressure and aging. The impossibility of isolating these factors in a study of the link between ischemic heart disease and agent orange has hindered the conclusion that the relationship is more than suggestive, but the link has been judged to be sufficient.

The addition of the condition to the list containing 14 other diseases linked to exposure to agent orange means that thousands of veterans or their surviving families will be eligible for retroactive disability compensation. There are 86,000 cases of previously denied claims for ischemic heart disease and the other two conditions recently added to the list: Parkinson's disease and chronic B-cell blood cancers. Ischemic heart disease compensation claims are expected to comprise about 82 percent of additional payments in the future so its addition is considered a significant one.

In order to qualify for compensation, the veterans must prove that they physically set foot on Vietnam some time between 9 January 1962 and 7 May 1975, or were otherwise exposed to agent orange during active duty. There is no time limit as to the onset of the condition, as evidence showed to a sufficient degree that exposure to agent orange could cause genetic or structural changes which would increase the likelihood of developing ischemic heart disease. Likewise, there is no obligation on behalf of the veterans to prove the link between their ischemic heart disease and agent orange in order to receive benefits. The same holds true for the other herbicides used in the Vietnam War.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Discussion Comments
By Drentel — On Nov 21, 2014

@Animandel - War is not rational, so the decisions people make in order to win wars are often not rational either. When you are trying to defeat your enemy, this is your main focus -- not what might happen in five, 10 or 15 years.

By Animandel — On Nov 20, 2014

Who ever thought using this agent orange was a good idea? Seriously, wasn't there someone who thought that maybe we shouldn't be putting this stuff anywhere near our soldiers or anywhere near civilians?

I know hindsight is 20-20, but surely scientists must have known there were some serious problems involved in using this weapon. When the final numbers are tallied, I wonder whether the agent orange will have killed and wounded more of the enemy's troops or more U.S. troops.

By Feryll — On Nov 20, 2014

It's a shame that veterans sometimes have such a hard time getting the respect and care and compensation they deserve when they return from fighting.

I have an uncle who served in the Gulf War and he has been having physical problems ever since he returned from there. He says that sometimes he simply feels like his body weighs a thousand pounds and he can't get it moving. He has a long list of ailments.

He and many of the other troops who were over there sometimes compare their ailments to the health issues some of the the troops who served in Vietnam had. I know we didn't use agent orange in the gulf war, but there were a lot of chemicals in the area and troops were given pills that could have caused some of the problems.

By Laotionne — On Nov 19, 2014

Seems like any veteran who served in Vietnam in an area where agent orange was ever used should be given benefits for whatever illness he or she may have. Basically, that stuff is poison and there isn't much that it couldn't cause in terms of health problems.

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