Agent Orange was an infamous chemical used as a tactical measure in the military. This harmful defoliant was deployed in the 1960s and 1970s as a way to reduce the amount of vegetation in an area. Repeated exposure to Agent Orange has been known to cause anything from cancer to liver dysfunction. While this chemical is generally associated with Vietnam, there have been questions raised about its use in Guam and its effect on Guam veterans. In the past, these claims have been dismissed by the Department of Veterans Affairs based on insufficient evidence. However, there is new research based on both oral history and private archives that suggests that Agent Orange was used within the territory.
This is not the first time that the VA has been challenged about how the department has treated veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange. In fact, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 was signed into law primarily as a way to expand who was eligible for benefits for service-connected disabilities. It includes Navy Veterans who served offshore of Vietnam and those who served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone.
As of this writing, the territory of Guam is still pending, though there’s reason to believe that the VA will eventually include members who served there during certain time frames. We’ll look at the reports that have urged the VA to reconsider as well as the diseases that might be caused by Agent Orange.
1962 – 1975: Dangerous Years for Agent Orange Exposure
The National Veterans Legal Services Program and the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School collaborated to determine if and when veterans would have been exposed to Agent Orange or other harmful herbicides containing dioxins. They determined that 1962 to 1975 would have been the most likely years that the herbicide would have been used.
These reports seem to prove that veterans do meet the legal standards of exposure, meaning those who served during this time in Guam may have reason to file for related disabilities. Herbicide exposure during the Vietnam era was incredibly common, as the herbicide proved incredibly effective for reducing the coverage of wild tropic growth.
Agent Orange was approved in 1962 after John F. Kennedy gave his final approval to eliminate the growth of the Vietnam forests. In 1991, Congress approved a research study to examine the effects of the herbicide on military members using blood and tissue samples from voluntary veterans during the affected time periods.
Presumptive Diseases Associated with Agent Orange
There are a number of diseases that could have been associated with Agent Orange and Agent Orange symptoms:
- AL amyloidosis
- Type II diabetes
- Ischemic heart disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Chronic B cell leukemia
- Porphyria cutanea tarda
- Lymphoma (Non-Hodgkins/Hodgkins)
- Soft tissue sarcoma
- Respiratory cancers
- Prostate cancer
This chemical can clearly affect the body in a number of different ways. It’s linked with harmful protein buildup, insulin overproduction, muscle illnesses, organ dysfunction, and chest pain. Most notably, it’s connected to devastating cancers, including those that attack the lungs, trachea, and larynx.
The Standard of Proof for Agent Orange Benefits
The standard of proof for the VA is whether veterans were as likely to have been exposed to harmful herbicides as they were likely to have not been exposed. The reason behind the reports is to urge the VA to both address and take responsibility for the distribution of the chemicals as well as the health concerns of the veterans who were negatively affected.
Guam served as a base for the US during the Vietnam War. 75% of all B-52s were used in Southeast Asia were based on Guam, making it a major resource for the Air Force. There were clear Agent Orange benefits for the military workers in Guam.
Less vegetation coverage meant more visibility during landings. It could also control the severity of a fire and reduce the overall destruction in any given area. But at the time that it was approved, little to nothing was known of its long-term effects on people. This is especially true for those who may have had pre-existing conditions (or other risk factors) that made them more vulnerable to its effects.
Service members have said that they used Agent Orange across Guam, as well as other types of toxic herbicides, yet these claims have largely gone ignored by the VA. There are unofficial groups devoted to the aftereffects of the chemical, but the VA has never officially recognized these claims (or the resulting illnesses) as valid.
Mounting Pressure on VA
In previous decades, the VA has outright dismissed these claims. However, between the new reports by official parties as well as the overwhelming claims from the veterans themselves, there is reason to believe that the VA will begin to recognize a service connection between certain diseases if the veteran served in Guam during this time period.
Taking Action on Agent Orange Guam Exposure
Because Agent Orange can cover such a wide range of illnesses, it would be understandable for a veteran to believe that a late-stage disorder was unrelated to their time in the service. For example, if a service member developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma several decades after being discharged. In fact, given the overwhelming denial by the United State government, it would be easy to believe that there was no connection between the two.
However, there does seem to be some degree of herbicide use in Guam, which would mean that Agent Orange survivors in Guam should have access to the same disability benefits as someone who served in the Vietnam War. While the VA has not officially recognized the connection as of yet, the reports from the National Veterans Legal Services Program and the Veterans Legal Services Clinic are a strong step in the right direction for Guam veterans who have suffered due to this sometimes deadly chemical.
Now could be a good time to talk to a legal professional who will help you stay on top of the news coverage. They can also help you prepare a case for disability benefits should you have one of the many related diseases caused by Agent Orange.