Although veterans who served boots-on-ground in Vietnam are now presumptively service-connected for Parkinson’s, other causes of Parkinson’s are becoming more prevalent. This post is going to discuss Parkinson’s and how to show direct service-connection between Parkinson’s and exposure to chemicals.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic and progressive movement disorder, and is the most common neurodegenerative movement disorder of aging. Parkinson’s affects the nerve cells in the substantia nigra area of the brain that produce dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. As Parkinson’s progresses, the amount of dopamine produced in the brain decreases, leaving a person unable to control movement normally.
Because Parkinson’s is a progressive disease, the symptoms vary in manifestation and duration. Listed below are signs of Parkinson’s at the initial/mild stage, the secondary/moderate stage, and advanced stage.
- Resting tremor
- Bradykinesia – slow movement
- Rigidity – stiffness & inflexibility of the limbs, neck & trunk
- Postural Instability – tendency to be unstable when standing upright
- Change in posture and facial expressions
- Freezing – the temporary sensation of one’s feet being glued to the floor
- Mask-like expressions
- Involuntary movements
- Great difficulty walking; in wheelchair or bed most of the day
- Inability to live alone
- Assistance needed with all daily activities
- Cognitive problems, including hallucinations and delusions
- Stooped posture, a tendency to lean forward
- Impaired fine motor dexterity and motor coordination
- Impaired gross motor coordination
- Poverty of movement (decreased arm swing)
- Speech problems, such as softness of voice or slurred speech caused by lack of muscle control
- Difficulty swallowing
- Sexual dysfunction
In spite of decades of study, the causes of Parkinson’s have yet to be determined. Many experts say that Parkinson’s is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, but these vary case by case. Certain environmental factors, such as occupational exposure to chemicals, have been linked to Parkinson’s.
Of the chemicals that have been most suspected risk factors for Parkinson’s, TCE holds the most proof of causing Parkinson’s. A colorless, non-flammable halocarbon, trichloroethylene dissolves most fixed and volatile oils. It is a powerful solvent action for fats, greases, waxes, oils, and tars. Type 1 TCE is used in dry-cleaning and for general solvent purposes. Type 2 TCE is used for vapor degreasing of metals. Over 90 percent of TCE is consumed by the metal degreasing and dry-cleaning trades.Studies of discordant twins, as well as experiments in laboratories, have shown that people chronically (eight to 33 years) exposed to TCE were more likely to develop Parkinson’s than the those who had not.
Military veterans have been seeing these results more than most. For decades, TCE had a wide variety of purposes in the military—from paint thinner to parts cleaner— and involved constant handling. After months or even years of inhaling and handling this chemical with little or no protection, veterans see Parkinson’s symptoms appear. While chemical exposure resulting in Parkinson’s has not been officially recognized by the VA as a presumptive disease, it is still possible to get VA benefits. In order to increase chances of winning these kinds of cases, it would be advisable to get a medical opinion by a doctor or specialist in that field. The verbiage that the VA needs to see is that “it is at least as likely as not” that the veteran’s conditions were caused by (for the purposes of this post) constant handling of TCE, and thus are service connected.