If you’re a veteran who served during the Vietnam War, you may be eligible for Agent Orange benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Veterans who meet specific service criteria and have certain conditions will be eligible for presumptive service connection in their claim for VA disability compensation.
Here’s everything veterans should know about applying for Agent Orange benefits.
What is Agent Orange?
Agent Orange is a herbicide mixture used from 1962 to 1971 by the US military to spray over Vietnam to defoliate inland hardwood and coastal mangrove forests that could conceal opposition forces, to destroy crops that those forces might depend on, and to clear tall grasses and bushes from the perimeters of US base camps and outlying fire-support bases.
Mixtures of 2,4-D, 2,4,5-T, picloram, and cacodylic acid made up the bulk of the herbicides sprayed. The main chemical mixture sprayed was Agent Orange (a 50:50 mixture of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T).
Health Effects of Agent Orange
After the Vietnam War, returning Vietnam Veterans were complaining and seeking treatment for conditions not related to pre-existing or hereditary illnesses. Not only were Veterans getting sick but so were their children. Combined with emerging toxicologic evidence of negative effects of herbicides from animal studies and some positive findings from epidemiologic studies, it resulted in sustained controversy.
To relieve the growing public clamor, in 1991, Congress passed Public Law (PL) 102-4, the Agent Orange Act of 1991, to address the long-term health effects on Veterans who during their service in Vietnam were exposed to herbicides—mixtures of 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T), and its contaminant 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), picloram, and cacodylic acid.
That legislation directed the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to ask the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to perform a comprehensive evaluation of scientific and medical information regarding the health effects of exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides used in Vietnam. The first committee report, Veterans and Agent Orange: Health Effects of Herbicides Used in Vietnam (VAO), was published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 1994.
NAS has published a biennial update ever since, with the Eleventh Biennial Update in 2018 concerning the most recent and up to date information regarding the potential health effects of herbicides in Vietnam veterans or related aspects of herbicide or 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) exposure.
Who Is Eligible for Agent Orange Benefits?
Veterans with certain health conditions and service conditions are eligible for Agent Orange benefits through the VA.
Diseases Related to Agent Orange
As a result of the above studies, the VA determined that certain diseases are presumptively believed to have a causal relationship between herbicide exposure and the disease caused by exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides. These diseases include:
- Chronic B-cell leukemia: A type of cancer that affects your white blood cells (cells in your body’s immune system that help to fight off illnesses and infections)
- Hodgkin’s disease: A type of cancer that causes your lymph nodes, liver, and spleen to get bigger and your red blood cells to decrease (called anemia)
- Multiple myeloma: A type of cancer that affects your plasma cells (white blood cells made in your bone marrow that help to fight infection)
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma: A group of cancers that affect the lymph glands and other lymphatic tissue (a part of your immune system that helps to fight infection and illness)
- Prostate cancer: Cancer of the prostate (the gland in men that helps to make semen)
- Respiratory cancers(including lung cancer): Cancers of the organs involved in breathing (including the lungs, larynx, trachea, and bronchus)
- Soft tissue sarcomas(other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma): Different types of cancers in body tissues such as muscle, fat, blood and lymph vessels, and connective tissues
- AL amyloidosis: A rare illness that happens when an abnormal protein (called amyloid) builds up in your body’s tissues, nerves, or organs (like your heart, kidneys, or liver) and causes damage over time
- Chloracne(or other types of acneiform disease like chloracne): A skin condition that happens soon after contact with chemicals and looks like acne often seen in teenagers.
- Diabetes mellitus type 2: An illness that happens when your body is unable to properly use insulin (a hormone that turns blood glucose, or sugar, into energy), leading to high blood sugar levels
- Ischemic heart disease: A type of heart disease that happens when your heart doesn’t get enough blood (and the oxygen the blood carries). It often causes chest pain or discomfort.
- Parkinson’s disease: An illness of the nervous system (the network of nerves and fibers that send messages between your brain and spinal cord and other areas of your body) that affects your muscles and movement—and gets worse over time
- Peripheral neuropathy, early onset: An illness of the nervous system that causes numbness, tingling, and weakness.
- Porphyria cutanea tarda: A rare illness that can make your liver stop working the way it should and can cause your skin to thin and blister when you’re out in the sun.
Interestingly, the 2018 NAS report found that there is now “sufficient evidence of an association” between exposure to herbicides and hypertension and monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS), which is a precursor to multiple myeloma. However, despite the strong scientific medical evidence, the VA has not included either of these conditions to its list of presumptive diseases.
Eligibility Criteria for Veterans
According to the VA, veterans who meet the following criteria may be eligible for presumptive service connection when applying for Agent Orange benefits:
- Served between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975 for any length of time in one of the following locations:
- “In the Republic of Vietnam, OR
- Aboard a U.S. military vessel that operated in the inland waterways of Vietnam, OR
- On a vessel operating not more than 12 nautical miles seaward from the demarcation line of the waters of Vietnam and Cambodia, OR
- On regular perimeter duty on the fenced-in perimeters of a U.S. Army installation in Thailand or a Royal Thai Air Force base. These bases include U-Tapao, Ubon, Nakhon Phanom, Udorn, Takhli, Korat, or Don Muang.”
- OR at least one of the following criteria must apply:
- “Served in or near the Korean DMZ for any length of time between September 1, 1967, and August 31, 1971, OR
- Served on active duty in a regular Air Force unit location where a C-123 aircraft with traces of Agent Orange was assigned, and had repeated contact with this aircraft due to your flight, ground, or medical duties, OR
- Were involved in transporting, testing, storing, or other uses of Agent Orange during your military service, OR
- Were assigned as a Reservist to certain flight, ground, or medical crew duties at one of the below locations.”
You can find the complete list of eligibility requirements, including eligible reserve locations, on VA.gov.
How to Apply for Agent Orange Benefits
Once you determine that you meet the criteria for Agent Orange presumptive service connection, you can make a disability claim.
However, if a Veteran believes a condition not on the list is casually related to Agent Orange exposure, they are also eligible to apply and provide competent medical evidence in support of their contention.
You can make this claim:
- On the VA website (VA.gov)
- Through the mail (VA Form 21-526EZ)
- In person at your local VA regional office
- Over the phone
Evidence for Your Agent Orange Claim
Veterans will need to present medical evidence in their VA disability claim. The Veteran will need to show:
- A diagnosis of a current disability
- A medical “nexus” or link between Agent Orange exposure and that disability
When linking your health problem with Agent Orange exposure, scientific proof may be required. Acceptable forms of proof include an article from a medical journal or a published research study that supports a causal relationship between the current disability and exposure to the agents used in the herbicide mixture.
And, of course, the Veteran must provide information on how such exposure occurred.
How The VA Rates Agent Orange Claims
For each condition listed in the presumptive diseases, when a Veteran is found eligible for compensation, the VA will assign a rating and effective date for that rating based on the Schedule for Rating Disabilities.
The rate of compensation is based on a series of qualifying criteria for each condition, depending on its severity and associated symptomatology.
What Other Benefits Are You Eligible For?
In addition to disability compensation, benefits include:
- VA Healthcare
- Automobile allowance
- Clothing allowance
- Specially Adapted Housing/ Special Home Adaptation Grants
- Service-Disabled Veterans’ Insurance (S-DVI)
- Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI)
- Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E)
- Education assistance
- Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA)
- Special Monthly Compensation (SMC)
VA also offers compensation to eligible dependents of Veterans, including a surviving spouse, child(ren), and/or parent(s).
Seeking Legal Support for Your Agent Orange Claim
If you have an Agent Orange-related illness and are seeking VA disability benefits, the team at Hill & Ponton are available to support you. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.
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