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Diabetes' Link To Herbicide Explored

05:01 PM ET 10/11/00 WASHINGTON (AP) - By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, Associated Press Writer

There may be an association between exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam and getting diabetes later in life, according to a new Institute of Medicine study. But the analysis stopped short of saying the link was conclusive.

Vietnam veterans have sought to have diabetes added to the list of diseases linked to exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides.

Last year a task force at the Department of Veterans Affairs concluded there was a connection between the disease and exposure to the chemicals, and a later Air Force analysis also found a connection. Other studies, however, said there was insufficient evidence to link the two.

The new analysis concludes that "there is limited/suggestive evidence of an association between exposure to the herbicides used in Vietnam or the contaminant dioxin and Type 2 diabetes.''

The Vietnam Veterans of America welcomed the new report. "We're delighted and feel vindicated,'' said VVA vice president Rick Weidman. He said the veterans group will be calling for immediate recognition of the disease as service-connected and will urge screening of veterans to detect the disease in its early stages.

During Vietnam thousands of veterans were exposed to Agent Orange, a defoliant used to clear areas of jungle so the Viet Cong could be seen and attacked from the air.

"Research findings that have now accumulated over a long period of time seem to support the possibility of a link between Agent Orange exposure and Type 2 diabetes,'' said Dr. David J. Tollerud, chairman of the committee that prepared the study for the Institute, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences. Type 2 diabetes strikes adults, in contrast to Type 1, which begins in childhood.

Tollerud is director of the Center for Environmental and Occupational Health at Hahnemann University School of Public Health in Philadelphia.

He added, however, that the increased likelihood of contracting the disease from herbicide exposure seems to be small.

"The known predictors of diabetes risk _ family history, physical inactivity and obesity _ continue to greatly outweigh any suggested increased risk from wartime exposure to herbicides,'' he added.

Under the law governing Agent Orange, Vietnam veterans need not prove a direct causal relationship to receive service-based compensation for certain diseases. The diseases currently on the list include Hodgkin's disease, multiple myeloma, respiratory cancers, soft-tissue sarcoma and prostate cancer, but not diabetes. Veterans' children with spina bifida, a congenital birth defect of the spine, are also eligible for benefits and health care.

The VA commissioned the Institute's analysis and spokesman Jim Benson said it is now under study at the agency.

The National Academy of Sciences is an independent organization chartered by Congress to advise the government on scientific questions.

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