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Intergenerational health effects and exposures

Agent Orange Newsletter: Information for Vietnam-era Veterans and their families.
adult hands holding an infant's hand.

Many Veterans, the media, and other stakeholders have questions about possible intergenerational health effects from exposures during deployment.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), an independent, scientific organization that reviews the latest scientific literature on different topics, has released several reports to VA on intergenerational health effects related to military exposures.

One of the earliest NASEM reports is the Adverse Reproductive Outcomes in Families of Atomic Veterans: The Feasibility of Epidemiologic Studies (1995). This report noted that the “prevailing view is that exposure of the human male to chemicals and ionizing radiation is generally unrelated to the occurrence of developmental endpoints such as miscarriage, birth defects, growth retardation, and cancer.”

In the most recent NASEM volume on Agent Orange, Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 11 (2018), NASEM concluded that there is inadequate or insufficient evidence of birth defects in the descendants of Vietnam Veterans resulting from tactical herbicide exposure. However, VA provides benefits for children of Vietnam Veterans who have spina bifida (https://www.publichealth. birth-defects/spina-bifida.asp). and for children of women Vietnam Veterans (https://www.publichealth. birth-defects/children-women-vietnam-vets.asp) who have various birth defects.

In Gulf War and Health, Volume 11: Generational Effects of Serving in the Gulf War (2018), NASEM reviewed several hazards related to military service and their associations with reproductive, developmental, and other gene-related effects in parents and children. It noted that some birth defects may have environmental associations and further research is needed. Some examples of these associations are infectious diseases like rubella (German measles), which acts directly on the developing baby in the womb.

NASEM also noted that in order to explore the issue of birth defects and environmental exposures, a national birth defects registry and national health record are part of the solution. Since neither a national birth defects registry nor a national health record exist, the ability to fully study the connection between birth defects and environmental exposures is currently not feasible.

In the related area of women’s health, for Veterans who served at Camp Lejeune and their family members, VA provides health care or reimbursement for out of pocket expenses related to female infertility and miscarriages due to possible links with exposure to the contaminated water there.

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