Vietnam War Health Risks
In addition to the risks inherent to combat, troops experience many environmental hazards. Pesticide and herbicide spraying was commonplace. In addition, Vietnam is a tropical country with high temperatures, high humidity and a monsoon climate. Approximately 20 million gallons of herbicides were used in Vietnam between 1962 and 1971 to remove unwanted plant life and leaves which otherwise provided cover for enemy forces during the Vietnam Conflict.
Infections and Diseases
Many troops were unable to get dry for days, opportunities for bathing were infrequent, and skin hygiene was poor. Bacterial and fungal infections of the feet were a major cause of temporary disability. Skin disease was a leading cause of outpatient visits and hospitalization.
Tropical diseases were frequent. Malaria was the most important. Over 40,000 cases of Malaria were reported in Army troops alone between 1965 and 70 with 78 deaths. However, this was less than had been seen in earlier wars because of the effectiveness of weekly medication.
Throughout the war, disease accounted for 70.6% of all admissions with the remaining approximately equally divided between battle casualties (15.6%) and non-battle injury (13.8%). These increased survival rates were attributed to rapid evacuation, the ready availability of whole blood and well-established semi-permanent hospitals.
The name “Agent Orange” came from the orange stripe on the 55-gallon drums in which the herbicide was stored. Shortly following their military service in Vietnam, some Veterans reported a variety of health problems and concerns which some of them attributed to exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides.
VA now recognizes eight conditions which are presumed to be related to service in Vietnam for the purposes of establishing service-connection: soft tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease, chloracne, porphyria cutanea tarda, respiratory cancers, multiple myeloma, prostate cancer, acute periperal neuropathy, and spina bifida in offspring.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has developed a comprehensive program to respond to these medical problems and concerns. The principal elements of this program include quality health care services, disability compensation for Veterans with service-connected illnesses, scientific research and outreach and education.
Hepatitis C Virus (HCV)
Hepatitis C Virus is the most common infection carried by blood in the United States and 63% of enrolled Veterans testing positive for HCV are Vietnam Era Veterans. HCV infection is a major public health problem in the United States (U.S.) because of its potential to lead to cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma, and other life-threatening conditions.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Deployment places Veterans at increased risk for symptoms of psychiatric illnesses, particularly post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression and substance abuse.