Agent Orange Linked to Prostate Cancer
Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange have a significantly greater risk of prostate cancer, especially the most aggressive form of the disease, according to a recently released study. The study of data collected on 13,144 Vietnam veterans, of whom 6,214 were exposed to Agent Orange, reports that twice as many of the veterans exposed to the defoliant had developed prostate cancer, compared with veterans not exposed. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, Department of Urology and the VA Northern California Health Care System say their findings are the first to connect Agent Orange with this form of cancer.
Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during the war “have a twofold higher risk of prostate cancer,” according to the study’s lead author Dr. Karim Chamie. “The cancer they get tends to be more aggressive, a higher grade, and is more likely to spread or have spread at the time that they present to their urologist.”
The researchers also found that men exposed to Agent Orange were diagnosed with prostate cancer 21⁄2 years younger than unexposed men. Since many veterans don’t get care through the VA, Chamie urged that “this message needs to go out to their physicians and their urologist in the private community to know that this is a large risk factor.”
The findings, published in the September 15 issue of the journal Cancer, are the first to utilize a large population of men in their 60s and the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test to screen for the disease. Regarding individuals exposed to Agent Orange, the study concludes: “Consideration should be made to classify this group of individuals as high risk, just like men of African-American heritage and men with a family history of prostate cancer.”
Some scientists not involved with the study said the research does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between Agent Orange and prostate cancer. Dr. Bruce Roth, a Vanderbilt University professor of medicine and urologic surgery, called the study “interesting but not persuasive.” He speculated that because participants who reported Agent Orange exposure were screened thoroughly for prostate cancer, more cancers were found.
Dr. Michael J. Thun, vice president of epidemiology and surveillance research at the American Cancer Society, cautioned, “The finding is provocative, but it’s hard to know how to interpret it, unless it can be replicated in other studies.”
Ralph deVere White, UC Davis Cancer Center director and a study co-author, said, “Our country’s veterans deserve the best possible health care, and this study clearly confirms that Agent Orange exposure during service in Vietnam is associated with a higher risk of prostate cancer later in life.”
Between 1962 and 1971, more than 20 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed during the war, contaminating both the ground and soldiers. Prostate cancer is the second most common malignancy and the second leading cause of cancer death in American men. It is estimated that there will be about 186,320 new cases of prostate cancer in the United States in 2008.
General Walter Kerwin dies, Westy’s chief of staff during Tet
General Walter Kerwin, who served as General William Westmoreland’s chief of staff during the pivotal 1968 Tet Offensive, died July 11 at age 91. He later commanded the II Field Forces in Vietnam, became deputy personnel chief of the U.S. Army in 1970 and was named vice chief of staff in 1974. Born June 14, 1917, Kerwin graduated from West Point in 1939, then served as an artillery officer in World War II. He later held positions in intelligence and at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, before serving in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969. While deputy personnel chief in the Pentagon, he helped formulate the policies that ended the draft in 1973. As vice chief of staff from 1974 to 1978, Kerwin worked to raise salaries, educational standards and morale. In that position he reported first to General Frederick C. Weyand, and later to General Bernard W. Rogers.
After Kerwin retired from the Army in 1978, he worked as a consultant to business and governmental agencies, and also served with a scientific advisory group studying the effects of nuclear warfare. General Kerwin also joined the boards of several universities and nonprofit foundations, including the Army Historical Foundation and a number of armed forces personnel associations.
Helicopter pilot Ed Freeman, hero at LZ X-Ray in 1965, dies
Edward Freeman, a hero of the Ia Drang battle, died in Boise, Idaho, on August 20 at age 80. “Too Tall” Freeman’s actions are depicted in the 1993 book We Were Soldiers Once…and Young, and in the 2002 movie based on the book. On November 14, 1965, Freeman flew his chopper into intense enemy fire to deliver supplies and evacuate 30 badly wounded men. In 2001 President George W. Bush awarded him the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in the Ia Drang.
California initiates ‘Welcome Home Vietnam Vets Week’
To coincide with the 20th anniversary of the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial in downtown Sacramento, the California Assembly and Senate have unanimously passed a resolution to establish a “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Week.” The initiative was introduced by Assemblyman Paul Cook, a retired Marine Corps colonel, Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient. Sponsors of the December 10-14 observance hope this will help bring comfort to California’s approximately 200,000 living Vietnam veterans. More information about the anniversary events, including the reading of the names of all 5,822 Californians who died in the Vietnam War, can be found at www.CAVietnamMemorial.com.
Veteran reunited with dog tag after 41 years
In August, Dr. Bill Rankin received a gift that shook up his world. The Fed-Ex envelope contained a letter from a stranger, photographs and a small piece of metal that he had not seen since losing it sometime during his Army service tour in Vietnam between 1965 and 1968.
The sight of his long-lost dog tag initially brought about difficult and mixed emotions. “Shortly after I got it, I got into a deep depression,” said Rankin. “A lot of thoughts had resurfaced— there is a lot that happened over there that I can’t remember.” But in the long run, he believes it was beneficial for him to get the dog tags back, reporting that “after a couple of weeks, the depression just went away.” Rankin, who runs a martial arts group in Frederick, Md., plans to keep the tag and eventually give it to his grandson.
The “angel” who sent him the memento, Jennifer Kerner, had bought this and several other tags while traveling in Vietnam with her father, who served as a physician during the war. Rankin hopes to help Kerner find the owners of the other dog tags she obtained during her trip.
Dr. Robert Mann of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) says that he and his colleagues have reunited 76 owners with their lost dog tags from the Vietnam War—13 of them since 2005. For more information on JPAC, and on several independent groups that work to reunite dog tags and service members, see: jpac.pacom.mil, canamission.com, founddogtags.com and vietnamdogtags.com.
Mine action program is focus of Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund delegation
Vietnam veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) President Jan Scruggs and former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Michael Marine led a delegation of 15 veterans, family members and educators in August to visit the VVMF’s seven-year-old mine action and humanitarian program, Project RENEW. The program’s mission is to help unexploded ordnance (UXO) victims achieve a better quality of life.
Delegates toured a center for the blind in Quang Tri where people who lost their sight through UXO accidents learn new skills and trades, as well as Braille. The VVMF group also observed an emergency ordnance disposal (EOD) operation in the Cam Lo District, toured a collection area for unexploded ordnance in Trieu Phong, attended the dedication of a community center near Khe Sanh and inspected a new Mobile Outreach Van that transports prosthetic and orthotic care to those who live in remote areas and do not have easy access to health care. The van was funded through a U.S. State Department grant.
For more information about the VVMF’s Project RENEW, visit www.vvmf.org.
Originally published in the December 2008 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here.