During the Vietnam era, close to a million service members served outside the borders of Vietnam in Southeast Asia. The majority of those service members were at Army and Air Force installations in Thailand. It is widely known now that veterans who served in Vietnam are suffering from a number of diseases that can be tied to herbicide (Agent Orange) exposure. What our government has been slow to acknowledge is that our veterans who served in Thailand are suffering from those same diseases and that they, too, were probably exposed to herbicides despite not serving within the borders of Vietnam.
What we know for certain is that herbicides were used in Thailand. Admittedly, the usage of those herbicides was different. In Vietnam, Agent Orange was widely sprayed over the countryside from airplanes to reduce foliage and increase visibility to expose enemy activity. In contrast, Agent Orange in Thailand, the limited to use only inside the perimeters of U.S. military installations. Currently, the VA recognizes that herbicides were used on the perimeters of the Thailand bases and that service members whose duties placed them on the perimeters were probably exposed to herbicides. The VA does not currently acknowledge that anyone who served on those bases, whether their duties were on the perimeters of the bases or not, was probably exposed to herbicides.
Intuitively, we know that many of our Thailand veterans were exposed to herbicides. But as I tell our veteran clients, with the VA, it’s not what we know but what we can prove. So what you have to do is prove to the VA that you were on the perimeters of those Thailand bases and that you were exposed to herbicides.
What can help you prove your case? You should provide a written statement to the VA, detailing how your duties took you to the perimeter of the base. For instance, if the base was attacked and you were ever called to defend the base, you need to state that, as specifically as possible. You can also provide written statements from fellow service members as to their recollections of serving with you, and how that service took you to the perimeters of the base. Of interest, recreational activities (like softball or jogging) often took place on the perimeters of some bases. If you and your buddies participated in those activities, provide statements (yours and theirs) about those activities and how close you were to the perimeter when you were engaged in those activities.
Also, check online to see if there are maps or pictures of your base. I have seen documents that were provided to soldiers upon their arrival at a base which provided maps and introductory information such as the locations of softball fields or storage lockers or bowling alleys, or other facilities. Look to see if you kept anything like that as a souvenir. A reminder of what was on the perimeter could jog your memory about why you might have been there. And don’t forget to review any photographs that you might have from your time in Thailand to see if any of them show you near the perimeter of the base, even in your leisure time. The more details you can provide to the VA about your contact with the perimeter of a Thailand base, the more credible your account is. Sometimes you have everything you need to prove your case, you just have to present it in the right way.