(Washington, D.C.)– On May 20, the Institute of Medicine Committee on Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans and Agent Orange Exposure released their final report. The committee was asked "to consider whether Blue Water Navy veterans might have been exposed to herbicides used in Vietnam, specifically Agent Orange and its contaminant, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, and whether this exposure could lead to an increased risk of long-term adverse health outcomes."
"While there is purported to be no positive findings for the Blue Water veterans, this is not the case," said John Rowan, National President of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). The committee verified an Australian study showing a plausible means of exposure through desalination of the ships' water supplies. The committee was able to verify that dioxin was made ten times more toxic during the desalination process.
"While it will likely never be determined how much and how far out Agent Orange drifted or wafted, or how much of this deadly toxin compromised the distillation process converting marine water into potable water," Rowan said, "science has yet to reveal how much of an exposure might not be safe, or might lead to health problems years later – the same health conditions that afflict boots-on-the-ground veterans of the Vietnam War."
The committee also concluded that it "could not state with certainty that exposures to Blue Water Navy personnel, taken as a group, were qualitatively different from their Brown Water Navy and ground troop counterparts."
Nor could the committee "find enough data to determine whether or not particular Blue Water Navy personnel were exposed to Agent Orange-associated dioxin. At the same time, the committee could not clearly delineate whether there were overlapping exposures between personnel categories."
Said Rowan, "We believe that the conclusions of the IOM panel recognize that Blue Water veterans had the same presumptive exposure to Agent Orange herbicides and dioxin as their in-country and Brown Water Navy comrades. These Blue Water Navy veterans deserve the same presumptive eligibility for health-care and disability compensation as their land-based brethren, and we call upon VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to change the current policy of unfairly excluding these veterans. The operative phrase should be the strong statement made in both the 2006 IOM Biennial Review and the 2008 IOM Biennial Review, to wit, 'There is no valid scientific reason to exclude Blue Water Navy veterans from the presumptive group of Vietnam veterans for exposure to Agent Orange.' "