The VA has acknowledged that veterans of the Vietnam War were exposed to Agent Orange since the passage of the Agent Orange Act of 1991. Vietnam veterans with “boots on the ground service” in Vietnam were granted presumptive service connection for certain conditions. However, prior to 2010, Vietnam Era veterans stationed in Thailand had to prove all three elements of direct service connection rather than receiving presumptive service connection if they wanted to receive VA disability compensation for conditions caused by exposure to Agent Orange. Direct service connection involves proving three elements: 1) the presence of a current disability; 2) an in-service incident; and 3) a link between the in-service incident and the current disability. This is much more difficult to prove than presumptive service connection. With presumptive service connection, you only have to prove two elements: 1) the presence of a current disability; and 2) an in-service incident. When dealing with presumptive service connection the link between the in-service incident and the current disability is presumed. In other words, the VA will presume that your current disability was the result of your military service without you having to provide evidence of that link.
In 2010, the VA began recognizing that certain veterans who served in Thailand should receive presumptive service connection for certain conditions. Currently, the following conditions are presumed to be caused by Agent Orange and will receive presumptive service connection for qualifying veterans stationed in Thailand:
- AL Amyloidosis – abnormal proteins deposited in and around tissues, nerves, and organs gradually cause damage and affects the function of those tissues, nerves and oragans.
- Chronic B-cell Leukemias – cancer that affects white blood cells
- Chloracne – skin condition that resembles severe acne
- Diabetes Mellitus Type 2 – the body does not use insulin properly resulting in numerous different complications
- Hodgkin’s Disease – type of lymphoma cancer causing enlargement of the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen
- Ischemic Heart Disease – also known as coronary artery disease (CAD) characterized by reduced blood supply to the heart
- Multiple Myeloma – a cancer of the plasma cells that can cause damage to the bones, immune system, kidneys, and red blood cell count.
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – cancer that affects the lymph glands and other lymphatic tissue
- Parkinson’s Disease – progressive disorder of the nervous system affecting muscle movement
- Peripheral Neuropathy, Early Onset – nervous system condition causing numbness, tingling, and motor weakness
- Porphyria Cutanea Tarda – disorder characterized by liver dysfunction and thinning and blistering of the skin in sun exposed areas
- Prostate Cancer – cancer of the prostate, one of the leading causes of death among men
- Respiratory Cancers – including cancers of the lung, larynx, trachea, and bronchus
- Soft Tissue Sarcomas – different types of cancers in body tissues such as muscle, fat, blood and lymph vessels, and connective tissues. Does not include osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma.
VA regulations state that Vietnam Era veterans whose service involved duty on or near the perimeters of military bases in Thailand anytime between February 28, 1961 and May 7, 1975 may qualify for VA benefits based on herbicide exposure. Specifically, the VA stated that the following veterans may have been exposed to herbicides such as Agent Orange in Thailand:
- S. Air Force Veterans who served on Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) bases at U-Tapao, Ubon, Nakhon Panom, Udorn, Takhli, Korat, and Don Muang, near the air base perimeter
- S. Army Veterans who provided perimeter security on RTAF bases in Thailand
- S. Army Veterans who were stationed on some small Army installations in Thailand (The VA requires the veteran to have been a member of a military police unit or assigned a military police military occupational specialty whose duty placed them at or near the base perimeter).
Overall, the VA requires evidence that the veterans listed above were on or near the base perimeters because their military duties required them to do so. What kind of evidence can be used to show you were at or near the perimeter? The VA states the evidence must be “credible evidence.” Examples of credible evidence include:
- Military occupational specialty (MOS)
- Lay evidence (such as buddy statements) that the veteran’s work duties brought them on or near the perimeter. For example, your MOS might not have specifically placed you near the perimeter, but if the base was attacked and you were called to defend the base, you should provide a statement giving the details of that incident.
- Lay evidence that the veteran’s recreational activities brought him on or near the perimeter, or took the veteran off the military base. Recreational activities such as softball or jogging often took place on the perimeters of some bases. Statements from the veteran and/or fellow service members who participated in recreational activities with the veteran about how close the activities took them to the perimeter of the base can make a huge difference in winning your case.
- Lay evidence that the veteran’s work facilities, living facilities, mess hall, etc were of a close proximity to the perimeter.
- Photographs of the base or photographs the veteran has from their service. Photographs of the base can help you remember details regarding your proximity to the base. For example, maybe you know you were close to the perimeter, but you can’t remember WHY exactly you were there. A photograph of the base shows a softball field near the perimeter of the base. You were part of the softball team while stationed at the base, but had completely forgotten where the softball field had been located. By looking at a photograph of the base you can describe, in detail, why and exactly how close you were to the perimeter of the base.
The more details you can provide regarding the contact you had with the perimeter of the base, the more credible your evidence will be.
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