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Veterans Fight to Get Rare Cancer Covered by VA

It took the Veterans Administration decades before it would acknowledge the connection between Agent Orange and a variety of illnesses suffered by Vietnam veterans.  Now, veterans are trying to establish a link between their years of service in the military and a rare form of cancer.

Many Vietnam veterans were forced to eat undercooked fish in the event that rations did not reach them in time.  Veterans believe this exposure to undercooked fish has led them to develop cancer of the bile duct. This kind of cancer goes undetected for decades, and by the time it is diagnosed, it is usually incurable.

Although doctors say the causes of this rare form of cancer are unknown, a parasite called a fluke infects fresh water fish in Southeast Asia, and when people eat raw or undercooked fish, the fluke can infest human livers and cause an infection.  The infection often clears over time, but cycles of inflammation can lead to mutations that result in cancer.

The VA does not believe the exposure is a compensable disability claim because it is not linked to Agent Orange exposure.  From 2013 to 2017, the VA received over 200 disability claims for bile duct cancer, and only about twenty-three percent were granted.  The VA conducted a pilot study published last year that confirmed evidence of exposure to the liver fluke parasites in US soldiers during their service in the Vietnam war, but a VA spokesperson has stated that a larger study is needed to establish a link.