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Leukemia, Agent Orange Link Found
(from January 29, 2003)

According to the Associated Press, the Veterans Affairs Department will extend benefits to Vietnam vets with a type of leukemia that researchers now say is linked to exposure to herbicides, including Agent Orange. Vietnam War veterans diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL, would start receiving improved benefits, such as disability compensation and priority health care services, in about a year, VA Secretary Anthony Principi said.
The Institute of Medicine, which re-examined past research on cancer rates in agricultural workers and farm community residents, announced Thursday that it had found the link between CLL and Vietnam herbicides.
Veterans Affairs expects to find about 500 new cases of CLL a year among Vietnam veterans, said spokesman Phil Budahn. About 2.6 million people served in Vietnam during the war and most are still alive. In addition, there are 10,000 Vietnam veterans receiving disability pay for other illnesses related to exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides used during the war, Veterans Affairs said.

"It's just one more indication that service on the battlefield exposes men and women to dangers beyond bullets, shrapnel and missiles," said Principi, who requested the review. "Environmental hazards are as worrisome and deadly as some of the more common forms of battlefield injury."

Principi's decision to extend benefits pleased veterans groups who have continued to fight for research on the illnesses suffered by veterans exposed to the defoliants.

U.S. troops sprayed 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides over parts of South Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1960s and '70s to clear dense jungle. Some veterans reported a variety of health problems shortly after returning from the war.

Some forms of cancer, Type 2 diabetes and birth defects in veterans' children already are considered associated with herbicide exposures during the war. But it has been difficult to research the problem because no one knows how much chemicals troops were exposed to, the Institute of Medicine said.
By connecting the defoliant and CLL, the Institute of Medicine altered its own previous finding that not enough scientific evidence existed to determine whether the two were associated. The institute is part of the National Academy of Sciences.

Previously, researchers lumped CLL with other forms of leukemia when looking at cancer rates among Vietnam veterans. But this time the scientists examined rates of CLL separately, said Dr. Paul Engstrom, a member of the review committee and a vice president with Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.
The scientists said although CLL is a form of leukemia, it shares some similarities with Hodgkin's disease and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, two diseases that have long been known to be associated with exposures to the types of chemicals used in Agent Orange and other defoliants.

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