In Tribute to Steve Fiscus | The Michael J. Fox Foundation

Steve Fiscus

Raised in Tribute:


Steve Fiscus born in July of 1946 was a Marine who served in Vietnam. Steve left Vietnam in 1968 and returned to civilian life. In 1999 some 31 years after leaving Vietnam he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Steve had a suspicion that his Parkinson's disease was related to his exposure to Agent Orange. In 2001, Steve filed a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) seeking military service connection for his Parkinson's disease. The VA denied his claim but Steve being the Marine he was fought on.

Steve took to the internet and begins contacting other veterans of the Vietnam War who also had developed Parkinson's disease. In 2006 this informal group of veterans formed Military Veterans with Parkinson's or called (USMPV). Steve was elected President and along with Alan Oates and Lorenzo Gonzales took the lead role in working with and in opposition in some cases the research community, the VA, the Congress and the Institute of Medicine to get Parkinson's disease recognized as service connected for those veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

"Agent Orange" has become the common term to describe the various tactical herbicides used in Vietnam. In fact, there were various combinations of herbicides used and all designated by a color code. There was Orange, Blue, Green, White, Pink, Purple, and Super Orange. The herbicides were shipped in a 55-gallon drum and had a stripe painted around the drum in the color of that agent’s name. Over 20 million gallons of these herbicides were sprayed in Vietnam.

Agent Orange was the most sprayed of all the herbicides. It was a 50/50 mixture of two herbicides, 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. In the 2,4,5-T herbicide was a dioxin, 2,3,7,8-tetrachloro-dibenzo-para-dioxin, created during the manufacturing of the herbicide. This toxic dioxin called TCDD was the most powerful dioxin known to man. This would come to be one of the toxins responsible for many of the disease afflicting Vietnam veterans.

In 2006, USMVP started to look for research that would link Agent Orange to their Parkinson's disease. USMVP members dedicated their lives to this effort. The first indication of a connection was an unpublished study out of Stanford University. Dr. Lorain Nelson found that veterans who served in the Vietnam conflict period and who deployed to Vietnam were 2.6 times more likely to have Parkinson's disease than those veterans who served at the same time but did not deploy to Vietnam. Many other studies linking herbicides to Parkinson's disease were found.

Luck was also with the group when a Dr. Chris Reid, a physician-scientist with in Neurobiology, contacts the group. A friend of his father, who was a Vietnam veteran with Parkinson's had asked Dr. Reid to look at the issue of Parkinson's and Agent Orange. By this time , USMVP had grown to 110 Vietnam veterans with Parkinson's disease. With USMVP's assistance, Dr. Reid conducted a study on USMVP's members and used the members' sibling brothers who had not gone to Vietnam as the control group.

Here is a summary of his finding as send by him in a letter to the VA in support of Steve Fiscus appeal of the VA's denial of his claim for service connection for Parkinson's disease due to Agent Orange exposure.

"Summary: There is a growing consensus that pesticides and herbicides can cause early-onset PD in individuals carrying genes that increase their vulnerability to environmental toxins. Given that large numbers of Vietnam veterans were exposed not only to Agent Orange and other herbicides, but also to pesticides during their tours of duty, it is very likely that significant numbers of service members carrying susceptibility-enhancing genes will have encountered environmental exposures equivalent to those which dramatically increase the risk of PD in the studies cited above. The group of 110 veterans that I described above represents principally early-onset PD in the context of presumed Agent Orange exposure during Vietnam. Even those individuals in the group with later-onset PD appear to show a time interval between their Vietnam service and PD diagnosis that is commensurate with that of their younger counterparts--a trait consistent with a shared mechanism of causation. Therefore, it is my opinion that the connection between military service and PD in this population is not coincidental, but more likely than not, represents an example of the increased risk of PD demonstrably associated with wartime deployment (Nelson et al. 2005; Laino, Neurology Today. 2005. June (5)6: 48).

In 2008, Steve Fiscus, Alan Oates, Lorenzo Gonzales presented USMVP review of research supporting the link between Parkinson's disease and Agent Orange to the Institute of Medicine’s Committee that reviews the health issues in veterans exposed to Agent Orange. Dr. Reid traveling on his own money presented his study on the USMVP veterans to the same committee. As a result of the efforts of USMVP and Dr. Reid, in August of 2009, the Agent Orange Review Committee reported in its findings that there was evidence of an association between Parkinson's and Agent Orange. This report which also reported on the association or lack of association with other diseases was sent to the Secretary of the VA for his determination if any disease should be found to be service connected for exposure to Agent Orange herbicides.

In 2010, four years after the formation of USMVP and over 10 years after Steve Fiscus suspected that his Parkinson’s was a result of Agent Orange, VA Secretary Shinseki published rules that recognized Parkinson's disease as presumptively service-connected for veterans exposed to Agent Orange. This can be attributed to the bull dog fighting tenacity displayed by this Marine Veteran, and our friend Steve Fiscus.

In November of 2015, Steve passed away but he will never be forgotten for what he has accomplished for the other veterans with Parkinson's disease. May you "Rest in Peace" Vietnam brother.

Your USMVP Family

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