More research is needed on the health of the children and grandchildren of troops exposed to environmental pollution and chemicals while they served in the military, several U.S. senators say.
Before returning to their states Aug. 1 for recess, Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Mark Begich, D-Alaska, introduced a bill that would require the Veterans Affairs Department to establish a center for researching the health conditions of descendents of troops who may have been exposed to toxic chemicals.
The research would address illnesses stemming from service in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
“The Toxic Exposure Research Act is about addressing the painful, residual wounds of war that may impact a service member’s family long after the military operation is over,” Moran said in a release Aug. 1.
The legislation also would require the Defense Department to declassify documents related to any incident in which 100 or more service members were exposed to a toxic substance that resulted in at least one disability case.
Lawmakers say action is needed because illnesses related to genetic mutations linked to parental environmental exposures are difficult to diagnose and the scientific evidence proving any connection is lacking.
But “veterans have observed increased levels of cancers, birth defects and other conditions in their subsequent generations,” according to Moran. “The evidence of these wounds of war afflicting the children and grandchildren of service members exposed to toxins is growing and research is warranted to collect data and study this issue,” Moran’s office noted in a release.
Valerie Ouillette, the daughter of a Vietnam veteran, is a database administrator for the Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance who spends her time cataloging the diseases of more than 2,000 peers.
According to Ouillette, the organization’s inventory is vast — clusters of rare genetic conditions, endocrine disorders, cancers, premature heart disease. Her older brother, conceived a year after their father returned from Army service in Vietnam, was born with cerebral palsy, deafness and seizures and died at age 2.
She also has health issues, and while most have been attributed to genetic anomalies on her mother’s side, her physicians have said the symptoms and severity of her conditions likely are worse because of her father’s exposure to Agent Orange.
“I think there are tens of thousands of affected people out there,” Ouillette said. “On and on, through the different wars, they need to find out what the effects of spraying or exposures to deadly chemicals, vaccines and more.”
Several birth defects in children of Vietnam veterans are considered by VA to be service-connected, including spina bifida for children of male vets and 18 health conditions for children of mothers who served in that combat zone.
Ouillette notes points out, though, that some of the rare genetic diseases considered service-connected on the mother’s side, like Williams syndrome and Hallermann-Streiff syndrome, have appeared in children of make Vietnam vets but are not considered presumptive conditions.
“What we want to see is someone standing up and starting these studies and acknowledging that there is something wrong, that we are sick and our children are sick.Exposures are going to happen in future wars; they need to study us to figure out how to prevent it,” she said.
Moran’s legislation is supported by the Vietnam Veterans of America, which called affected children of troops “the innocent victims of military service.”
“This is comprehensive legislation that will construct a common mechanism and procedures that will encompass all past and future toxic wounds, as needed,” VVA National President John Rowan said in a statement Aug. 1.
A companion bill to an earlier version of the proposed Senate bill was introduced in the House on June 9 by Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif.