Jerry Chiano, a Vietnam veteran from Valley Stream, was recently diagnosed with a rare bile duct cancer that may have been caused by parasites he was exposed to in Southeast Asia’s waterways. The Department of Veterans Affairs, however, according to Chiano, does not recognize the cancer as a service-connected illness.
“Hundreds of veterans have been diagnosed with bile duct cancer over the past decade and many who may have it might not know they are at risk for it,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) outside Chiano’s home on July 5. “It’s time for the feds to study whether this is more than a coincidence.”
According to Chiano, those serving in the Vietnam War often swam and bathed in the rivers and ate local fish. The Cancer Treatments of America has said that water-borne parasites, called liver flukes, are common in Asian countries and can infect the bile duct. People become infected when ingesting contaminated water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Chiano had a tracheotomy due to cancer of the throat, which has been linked to Agent Orange — the cancer was diagnosed 20 years ago. More recently, he was diagnosed with bile duct cancer but does not receive service-related compensation.
According to published reports, hundreds of Vietnam veterans have been diagnosed with bile duct cancer. Dr. Ralph Erickson, Chief Consultant of Post-Deployment Health Services at the VA, said that approximately 700 patients with bile duct cancer have passed through the agency’s medical system in the last 15 years. The number of benefit claims for bile duct cancer has increased six fold since 2003. In 2015, 60 benefit claims for bile duct cancer were submitted to the VA and nearly 80 percent of those were denied.
Schumer called on the federal government to fund a study to examine the possible links between the Southeast Asian parasite and veterans who have been diagnosed with the rare cancer.
“The Vietnam Veterans of America are proud to stand with Senator Schumer and Jerry Chiano to call for an investigation into this rare cancer that is affecting veterans across the country,” said John Rowan, national president of the Vietnam Veterans of America. “We need to start studying what causes this cancer so that we can try to save some lives. That includes making Vietnam vets everywhere aware that they could be at risk for this disease.”
Joseph “Big Joe” Ingino, the southern district director of the Vietnam Veterans of America’s New York State Council, thanked Chiano for trying to raise awareness of the issue.
“I can't thank Jerry enough for sounding the bell on this cancer to make sure other vets know they could be at risk,” he said, “and for our Senator, Chuck Schumer for hearing that bell and doing the right thing to get to the bottom of what's causing it.”