If you or someone you know was exposed to Agent Orange, the Department of Veterans Affairs has options that can help, starting with a health screening that can help determine the nature and severity of the exposure as well as any potential treatment that may be needed (see below).
There is help available from the VA, but the first step is to get the screening. Why are Agent Orange issues important to the VA?
The Use Of Agent Orange In Combat
American combat troops were not officially fighting in Vietnam until 1965, but Agent Orange was deployed in Vietnam as early as 1961. Originally authorized by President John F. Kennedy, the U.S. Air Force planes began flying missions using Agent Orange as part of Operation Trail Dust.
Agent Orange was used as a “tactical herbicide” and contains a toxic substance called dioxin. Approximately 20 million gallons of Agent Orange is reported to have been used in Vietnam between 1961 and 1971. The death toll among American veterans alone? Some 300,000 troops.
Furthermore, many sources report approximately 400,000 Vietnamese people have died as a result of Agent Orange exposure and not all of that number were military members or even combatants.
At the end of the 1970s, President Jimmy Carter signed off on a Department of Veterans Affairs study of Agent Orange. In 1991 legislation known as the Agent Orange Act was signed into law. The Blue Water Navy Veterans Act of 2019 expanded the criteria for Agent Orange exposure to include those stationed on ships off the coast of Vietnam as well as those who were “boots on the ground” there.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is concerned about Agent Orange exposure as it may cause any of the following medical issues and much more:
- Amyloid light-chain Amyloidosis
- Hodgkin’s and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Ischemic Heart Disease
- Type II Diabetes Mellitus
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Respiratory Cancer (e.g., bronchus cancer, larynx cancer, lung cancer, trachea cancer)
- Prostate Cancer
- Soft Tissue Sarcoma
- Multiple Myeloma
- Porphyria cutanea tarda
- Kaposi’s sarcoma
Agent Orange VA Benefits
As mentioned at the start of this article, anyone worried about Agent Orange exposure should get in touch with the Department of Veterans Affairs as soon as possible to get screened and discuss future options.
You may be able to schedule an appointment for a screening as part of the Agent Orange Registry which is meant to help identify “possible long-term health problems related to exposure”. This screening can lead to treatment options where appropriate. These exams may be scheduled with a local VA Environmental Health Coordinator. There are no fees, co-pays, or negative consequences for other VA benefits by getting this screening.
VA Agent Orange Benefits For Veterans
Those exposed to Agent Orange (or what the VA terms “other herbicides”) as part of their military duty may qualify for:
- VA Health care benefits
- VA Disability Compensation (all discharges qualify except Dishonorable)
- VA benefits for qualifying dependent children with Agent Orange-related birth defects
- VA survivors’ benefits
To make a VA healthcare benefits claim, or to apply for disability compensation, you will need to start an initial claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs and submit evidence to support your claim. This is the standard procedure for those who wish to seek compensation and/or treatment. For Agent Orange-specific issues you will need to provide copies of your military records that show how or where you may have been exposed.
Disability Compensation is something you’ll see more than once; there’s the veteran’s own compensation and that provided as a survivor’s benefit. The VA lists the following groups who may be entitled to Disability and Indemnity Compensation:
- Surviving spouses of veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and died as the result of diseases related to that exposure
- Dependent children of veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and died as the result of diseases related to that exposure
- Dependent parents of Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and died as the result of diseases related to Agent Orange exposure
The VA official site reminds that survivors may be eligible in cases where the veteran died from “other service- related injuries or diseases or was totally disabled from service-connected conditions for certain lengths of time at the time of death”.
Those filing claims related to Agent Orange-caused birth defects may qualify for compensation, healthcare, and even vocational training for dependent children affected by the herbicide. Making such claims requires you to fill out and submit VA Form 21-0304.
These benefits can include monthly payments from the VA based on a VA disability rating awarded as part of the claim process. You won’t be able to receive such payments without going through a VA claim review process that includes submitting your claim, supporting evidence, etc. Get started working on your VA claim process or learning more about the VA healthcare and claims processes.
Eligibility For Agent Orange Related Benefits
VA disability compensation benefits awarded for Agent Orange exposure or presumed exposure depends (in part) on whether your military service required you to work “in a location that exposed you to Agent Orange.” The VA labels this a presumption of exposure. Who has one? Those who meet the following criteria while serving between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975 for any length of time:
- In the Republic of Vietnam, or
- Aboard a U.S. military vessel in certain waterways of Vietnam, or
- On a vessel operating not more than 12 nautical miles (seaward) from the demarcation line of the waters of Vietnam and Cambodia, or
- On regular perimeter duty on the fenced-in perimeters of a U.S. Army installation in Thailand or a Royal Thai Air Force base including U-Tapao, Ubon, Nakhon Phanom, Udorn, Takhli, Korat, or Don Muang.
Some won’t meet those conditions, and in those cases at least one of the following must apply:
- Served in or near the Korean DMZ “for any length of time” between September 1, 1967, and August 31, 1971, or
- Served on active duty in a regular Air Force unit location where C-123 aircraft with traces of Agent Orange was assigned, and had “repeated contact” with this aircraft due to your flight, ground, or medical duties, or
- Were involved in transporting, testing, storing, or any other uses of Agent Orange, or
- Were assigned as a Reservist to qualifying flight, ground, or medical crew duties at Lockbourne/Rickenbacker Air Force Base, Ohio, between 1969 to 1986, Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts, between 1972 to 1982 or Pittsburgh International Airport in Pennsylvania, from 1972 to 1982.
Were You Exposed To Agent Orange?
Agent Orange exposure is possible for those who served in any of the following locations according to the Department of Veterans Affairs:
- Exposure to Agent Orange may, under qualifying circumstances, be presumed for those who have served on land in Vietnam, via inland waterways of Vietnam, or “on a vessel operating not more than 12 nautical miles seaward from the demarcation line of the waters of Vietnam and Cambodia” as listed in Public Law 116-23, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act 2019. This exposure usually has taken place between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975.
- Those who served on or with C-123 aircraft including flight crews, ground maintenance, and aeromedical crew members may have been exposed to herbicide residue in missions flown “during and after after the Vietnam War”.
- Korean Demilitarized Zone exposure is presumed in certain cases “for units determined by VA and DoD to have operated along the demilitarized zone in Korea between Sept. 1, 1967, and August 31, 1971”.
- Service at Thailand military bases (American or Royal Thai Air Force bases) between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, on a case-by-case basis.
- There is also potential exposure for troops involved in herbicide tests and/or herbicide storage outside Vietnam including USA locations and elsewhere.
A Word About Blue Water Navy Veterans
Some veterans who may have been exposed as part of their military service were denied VA claims because the agency at one time, “determined that your disability wasn’t caused—or made worse—by your active-duty service”.
However legislation passed in 2019 called the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act was signed into law and took effect January 1, 2020. This law extended “a presumption of herbicide exposure” to Navy veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam and in offshore waters in the area.
The VA official site says, “Blue Water Navy Survivors, and certain dependents may be entitled to benefits if the Veteran was exposed”. If you had an Agent Orange claim that was denied by the VA in the past, it may be worth looking into resubmitting the claim or asking the VA how to get your case reviewed in light of the 2019 law.
Doing so could result in certain cases with qualifying circumstances in a VA claim award that includes a retroactive payment to the date of your original claim. This is called a retroactive payment and you should NOT assume you don’t qualify for one–make the VA review your records.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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