Since passage of the Agent Orange Act of 1991, the VA has acknowledged that veterans of the Vietnam War were exposed to Agent Orange. Furthermore, they have granted a presumption of exposure to veterans who were “boots on the ground” in Vietnam. This presumption also extends to “brown water” veterans. (Those veterans who went up the inland waterways of Vietnam. The VA has not yet extended this to “blue water” veterans (those veterans stationed in deep water of the coast, and in a number of harbors) or to veterans of other areas where Agent Orange was used such as Thailand. Today’s article focuses on how to prove Agent Orange exposure for those veterans who are not presumed exposed and in particular those who were stationed in Thailand. Military bases in Thailand were among the first established in the Vietnam War theatre of operations. They were subject to many attacks and also to the same chemicals and herbicides as those used in Vietnam itself. Many veterans who served in Thailand can tell stories about the disappearing vegetation around bases and some can even show pictures. For years, the government denied that herbicides were used in Thailand and in the process denied numerous veterans’ claims for benefits. This changed in 2010. The first question to answer is: What changed? In 2010, the VA released a Compensation and Pension (C&P) Bulletin that allowed the exposure presumption to be extended to veterans of certain Thailand bases during certain periods. In essence, the bulletin provided a set of rules which follow:
- Service at U-Tapao, Ubon, Nakhon Phanom (NKP), Udorm, Takhli, Korat, and Don Muang, between February 28, 1961 and May 7, 1975, and,
- Service as a security policeman, patrol dog handler, security police squadron, or “otherwise served near the air base perimeter.”
It is important to know that these veterans do not share the same presumption as those who were actually in Vietnam as the above-mentioned requirements must be met. The veteran must show that he was not only stationed on one of the bases, but that he was near the perimeter of the base. Once service near the perimeter is confirmed, the VA will concede service connection. The reason it is important to prove service near the perimeter of the bases is that unlike in Vietnam (where Agent Orange was sprayed in large swathes of countryside using airplanes), in Thailand, it was limited to use around U.S. military installations. The use was limited to reducing foliage around the bases themselves to increase visibility of potential enemies and reduce cover for snipers near the base. Veterans have a number of ways in which they can prove service along the perimeter, these include their records of service, lay statements, both their own and buddy statements, as well as MOS records that describe the necessity of perimeter service. Sometimes statements can establish that a veteran was near the perimeter in recreational activities. Many fields were cleared with herbicides to make baseball or softball fields for servicemen to play. These fields on top of being cleared with the herbicides were often near the perimeter of the bases. Our firm handled one example of just such a case. The veteran filed for service connection and was denied. Through the course of appeals, the case was remanded and the veteran was allowed to submit new evidence. In this evidence, statements were admitted that the veteran coached a softball team for local children and that he himself played on an intramural league. One of his performance reviews also commended his work with the children. Further research into Korat Air Force Base showed that the fields were along the perimeter. All of these things taken together proved enough for the Board of Veterans Appeals to accept that the veteran had regular contact with the base perimeter. This entitled the veteran’s widow to more than eight years of retroactive benefits. Once the VA accepts that the veteran was exposed to Agent Orange, a number of disabilities that were previously denied can potentially be linked to service and allow the veteran access to benefits that the were previously unavailable to him. There is a list of diseases associated with Agent Orange that are presumed service connected once exposure is conceded. The moral of this story is never give up on! Just because you do not get your benefits the first time through, you may the next. It also shows the importance of having someone on your side. Thank you for your service.