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Agent Orange in Thailand

For the past several years, the VA has acknowledged that veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam (including “brown water” veterans who served on the country’s inland waterways) were exposed to tactical herbicides such as Agent Orange and that such exposure causes multiple disabilities such as diabetes mellitus, peripheral neuropathy and a number of types of cancer.   More recently, VA has begun recognizing that some Vietnam-era veterans were exposed to Agent Orange in areas outside the landmass of Vietnam such as in Subic Bay, Philippines, in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Korea, or on military bases in Thailand.

A declassified report from the Department of Defense (often referred to as the CHECO report), along with other evidence, confirms that military bases in Thailand made significant use of herbicides within the fenced perimeters of those bases in order to remove foliage that might conceal enemy forces.  Those herbicides may have included tactical herbicides from Vietnam as well as other strong, commercial herbicides similar to tactical herbicides.  Consequently, VA is now willing to at least consider that veterans who served in Thailand between February 1961 and May 1975 may have been exposed to herbicides.

It is important to know that these Thailand veterans do not share the same presumption that the Vietnam veterans enjoy.  VA will not simply presume that if a veteran served on a military base in Thailand he was exposed to herbicides.  The Thailand veterans must demonstrate that their service involved duty on or near the perimeters of those military bases.  Such duty assignments include providing perimeter security as a dog-handler or other member of a military police (MP) unit.  Other types of perimeter service may also be conceded if there is credible evidence that the veteran’s work duties required his presence on the perimeter of the base.  Thailand veterans may rely on lay evidence such as their own statements as long as that evidence is supported by credible supporting evidence from another source.

Once the veteran’s perimeter service is confirmed, the VA will concede exposure to herbicides.  At that point, the veteran is entitled to the same presumption of service connection to which the Vietnam veterans are entitled.  In other words, once the veteran proves exposure to herbicides, if he then develops any of the diseases listed as being caused by herbicides, VA must grant service connection for those diseases.

If the VA’s recognizing only those veterans who can prove that they worked on the perimeters seems like an arbitrary distinction, that is because it is.  Veterans have stated that they lived in hooches within a stone’s throw from the perimeters, that they participated in recreational activities in fields that were cleared with the same herbicides used on the perimeters, and that they crossed the perimeter every time they entered or exited these bases.  Until the VA recognizes that all of these veterans were likely exposed to herbicides, however, it is important to know what information the VA needs in order to grant service connection for your claim.

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by Attorney Shannon Brewer

August 12, 2013

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