Veterans Exposed to Chemicals Linked to Birth Defects

July 16, 2014

Military personnel are constantly exposed to danger, and the men and women who serve in the armed forces accept some risks as part of the job. However, many veterans and their families suffer unexpected consequences because they were exposed to toxic substances during their time of service. According to ongoing studies, American children born to veterans are at a heightened risk of developing birth defects.

The Gulf War

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), along with several other organizations,  performed studies on infants born to veterans dating back to the 1990s. Per the studies, birth defects are on the rise from children born to Veterans who served in the Gulf War. Research suggests that veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals during are transferring the hazards onto their children.

Causes of Birth Defects From the Gulf War

Known as the Gulf War Syndrome, many veterans exposed to a mix of hazardous materials are now exhibiting symptoms such as chronic muscle and joint pain, memory loss, confusion, diarrhea, tumors, and neurological problems. The most common chemicals and other hazards that veterans were exposed to include:

  • Toxic oil from wells and fires
  • Depleted uranium residue
  • Anthrax vaccinations
  • Pesticides
  • Chemical nerve agents
  • Pyridostigmine Bromide (PB); pre-treatment medication used against soman, a nerve agent
  • Pesticides
  • CARC paint

Common Birth Defects Associated With the Gulf War

In a 1997 study performed by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, results concluded that infants born to Veterans are at an 7% increase of developing birth defects. In a 2004 study performed by the International Journal of Epidemiology, it was found that veterans who served in the Gulf War had a heightened chance of having infants with genital, digestive, and urinary, and musculo-skeletal system malformations. There is also a increased chance of miscarriage.

 The Vietnam War

Veterans who served in the Vietnam War have also been associated with having children with birth defects and a host of other medical issues. According to the VA, spina bifida is the most common birth defect. Spina bifida is marked by the spine failing to properly form, leading to parts of the spine poking through a part of the backbone.

For women who served in the Vietnam War, the list of potential birth defects are exorbitant, including

  • Cleft lip and cleft palate
  • Achondroplasia
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Clubfoot
  • Undescended testicle
  • Williams syndrome
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Hypospadias
  • Imperforate anus
  • Hip dysplasia

Hazards and Chemical Exposure Associated With the Vietnam War

Similar to the Gulf War, there were also toxic hazards during both the Vietnam and Korean War that has been linked to birth defects.

Agent Orange, a combination of two defoliants, was used from 1962 until 1971, exposing numerous veterans to the toxic chemical. Over 11 million gallons of Agent Orange was spread all over Vietnam. Dioxin, a toxic chemical byproduct, was saturated into the Agent Orange, lending to its harmful, toxic effects.

Other hazards during the Vietnam War include:

  • Malathion
  • Agent White
  • Agent Blue