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

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  • Written By: Marlene de Wilde
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 01 July 2014
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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.

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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.

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