Several publications published by the Public Health Service have shown that veterans have increased rates of cancer, and nerve, digestive, skin, and respiratory disorders. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention notes that in particular, there are higher rates of acute/chronic leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, throat cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, Ischemic heart disease, soft tissue sarcoma and liver cancer. With the exception of liver cancer, these are the same conditions the U.S. Veterans Administration has determined may be associated with exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin, and are on the list of conditions eligible for compensation and treatment.
Military personnel who were involved in storage, mixture and transportation (including aircraft mechanics), and actual use of the chemicals were probably among those who received the heaviest exposures. Military members who served on Okinawa also claim to have been exposed to the chemical but there is no verifiable evidence to corroborate these claims.
More recent research established that veterans exposed to Agent Orange suffer more than twice the rate of highly aggressive prostate cancer. Additionally, recent reports from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences show that Agent Orange exposure also doubles the risk of invasive skin cancers.
While in Vietnam, the veterans were told not to worry, and were persuaded the chemical was harmless. After returning home, Vietnam veterans began to suspect their ill health or the instances of their wives having miscarriages or children born with birth defects might be related to Agent Orange and the other toxic herbicides to which they had been exposed in Vietnam. Veterans began to file claims in 1977 to the Department of Veterans Affairs for disability payments for health care for conditions they believed were associated with exposure to Agent Orange, or more specifically, dioxin, but their claims were denied unless they could prove the condition began when they were in the service or within one year of their discharge.
By April 1993, the Department of Veterans Affairs had compensated only 486 victims, although it had received disability claims from 39,419 soldiers who had been exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam.