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National Academy of Sciences Exploring Possible Intergenerational Effects of Agent Orange

Agent Orange Newsletter: Information for Vietnam-era Veterans and their families.
A father poses with his adult son and daughter

Many Veterans have been concerned about the possibility that exposure to Agent Orange could cause birth defects or other health problems in their children and in subsequent generations. To address these concerns, VA has asked the Health and Medicine Division (HMD), formerly known as the Institute of Medicine (IOM), of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to find answers.  

HMD serves as an independent advisor for VA and other government agencies and organizations. VA is required by law to contract with HMD to review scientific evidence for possible connections between health conditions and exposures during military service, including exposures during service in Vietnam. HMD has reviewed the latest research findings on this issue several times, and has not found a clear association between Agent Orange exposure and intergenerational health effects.

In HMD’s most recent report, “Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2014” (released in March 2016), a committee of experts did not find an association between Agent Orange exposure and birth defects stemming from parents of either gender. HMD’s review committee stated that they found “inadequate and insufficient” evidence of an association. HMD also reversed its opinion from earlier reports that spina bifida is potentially associated with Agent Orange exposure in either parent.  The scientific evidence no longer supports an association between Agent Orange exposure and spina bifida.

VA will continue to explore the issue of Agent Orange exposure and intergenerational effects. HMD has been tasked with writing two additional reports that could help expand knowledge on this topic:

  • In response to recent legislation, VA asked HMD to complete an additional report on the possible intergenerational effects of toxic exposures from military service. Although, this report will be written as part of the “Gulf War and Health” series, HMD will look at exposures from other conflicts. The committee will also recommend a strategy for studying any effects in the children of Veterans in the future. The findings should help inform those interested in Agent Orange exposure. HMD plans to publish this report in early 2019.
  • VA has contracted with HMD to look at Agent Orange and Veterans health issues as a part of its eleventh review, “Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2017,” which is scheduled for release in early 2019. This committee will look again at possible birth defects and intergenerational health effects. In particular, VA has charged the committee with looking at the possible effects from paternal (a father’s) transmission to children or later generations.  

In the meantime, VA will continue to monitor and review the rapidly evolving medical and scientific literature in this field.


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