The Link Between Agent Orange and Heart Disease

Health Professional

Agent Orange has been a hot topic here on the HealthCentral Heart Disease site for the past couple years. One participant writes:

"I was wondering if anyone knew anything about the Agent Orange contributing to heart disease. "

So, let's discuss the link between Agent Orange and heart disease.

What is Agent Orange?

Agent Orange was used in Vietnam between 1961 and 1971. It is a specific blend of herbicides used to remove leaves from trees in the thick jungle canopy which may hide enemy forces, destroy crops that may feed enemy forces, and clear tall grasses and bushes from the perimeter of US base camps. Many Vietnam veterans were exposed to the Agent Orange herbicides.

How is Agent Orange Linked to Heart Disease

Due to uncertainty surrounding the health effects of Agent Orange exposure on Vietnam veterans, the Agent Orange Act of 1991 was passed by Congress. This act initiated a comprehensive evaluation by the Institute of Medicine into the scientific and medical information connecting Agent Orange exposure to health effects.

Since 1991, there have been 8 updates to the "Veterans and Agent Orange" report compiled by the Institute of Medicine. The most recent updated occurred in 2008 and was released on July 24, 2009.

In the latest update, "the authoring committee found suggestive but limited evidence that exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides used during the Vietnam War is associated with an increased chance of developing ischemic heart disease and Parkinson's disease for Vietnam veterans." (Source:

New Coverage for Vietnam Vets

The legislation regarding coverage for veterans exposed to Agent Orange is convoluted to say the least.

On March 25, 2010, the Department of Veterans Affairs published a proposed regulation to establish B-cell leukemia's; Parkinson's disease; and ischemic heart disease as linked to Agent Orange exposure.

This meant until regulation becomes final, eligible Vietnam Veterans may receive disability compensation for these disease.

Coverage Controversy

Senator Jim Webb, who is a decorated Vietnam veteran, has challenged the VA's coverage of these three new illnesses. It appears the root of Senator Webb's objection stems from the long-term costs associated with expanding the list of covered disabilities to ischemic heart disease, Parkinson's disease, and B-cell leukemia's based on science that may not be strong enough to justify the change. Webb has been quoting as estimating the cost for the decision to cover these three additional conditions to be a minimum of $42.2 billion over the next 10 years.

How Many Veterans Covered

It's difficult to estimate the number of Vietnam veterans that would benefit from these three additional diseases being added to the list of conditions covered in association with Agent Orange exposure. All claims are to be reviewed individually. Past Chairman of the government affairs for Vietnam Veterans states it won't be likely Agent Orange will be determined the cause of heart disease for someone "who has smoked for 40 years and is morbidly obese. Common sense is going to have to prevail as well."

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to share them below.

Be sure to sign up for heart healthy tips at and receive the bonus report "How to Make Heart Healthy Changes into Lifelong Habits".