The Veterans Administration plans to reexamine Vietnam veterans who show symptoms of chloracne, a skin problem linked to the controversial herbicide Agent Orange.
The VA, which has never acknowledged a claim of chloracne -- or any other disease -- caused by Agent Orange, agreed to the review at the request of Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.). "It obviously wasn't our idea," said VA spokesman Bob Putnam.
The VA now is reviewing 800 to 850 medical files on veterans who claimed to have skin problems and already have been examined. Those who show signs of chloracne will be invited to a local VA facility for reexamination by a dermatologist.
Dr. Barclay Shepard, the VA's Agent Orange coordinator, said he expects the review to result in no more than 40 invitations for reexamination. Individual veterans will be contacted by their local VA facility as they are identified as potential chloracne cases Shepard said. He expects examinations to begin next month.
Agent Orange was the most widely used of several defoliants sprayed in areas of Vietnam to kill crops and expose hideouts off North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops.
Veterans have filed suit against the VA to win disability benefits for treatment of medical problems they say are caused by the herbicide.
The Pentagon and the Dow Chemical Co., the manufacturer of Agent Orange, have said no scientific evidence conclusively links the herbicide to any known disease.
Chloracne, said Shepard, is "one condition that has been well-documented as resulting from exposure to dioxin," a toxic chemical contained in the herbicide, although chloracne can occur from other causes.
Discovery of a number of chloracne cases during the upcoming reexaminations would "raise the index of suspicion" about Agent Orange, Shepard said.
The herbicide has been blamed for causing cancer, impotence, weight loss, headaches and other medical problems, as well as chloracne.
During congressional hearings last year veterans also claimed that their exposure to Agent Orange has caused their children to be born with birth defects.