U.S. military bases in Thailand were some of the first bases established in the Vietnam War theater of operations, and the veterans who served on those bases were just as much a part of the war as those who served “boots on the ground” in the Republic of Vietnam. They were subjected to enemy attacks, and they were also subjected to exposure to the same herbicides used in Vietnam itself. Veterans who served in Thailand during the Vietnam era can tell stories about and sometimes even show pictures of the disappearing vegetation on the bases on which they served.
For years, the U.S. government denied ever spraying Agent Orange or similar herbicides in Thailand, leading to continual denials from the VA for those veterans who served in Thailand and are now suffering the effects of herbicide exposure. Recently, the VA has acknowledged that certain veterans who served in Thailand between February 1961 and May 1975 may have been exposed to herbicides. This list includes U.S. Air Force veterans who served on Royal Thai Air Force bases at U-Tapao, Ubon, Nakhon Phanom, Udorn, Takhli, Korat and Don Muang. In addition, some U.S. Army veterans who provided perimeter security on those bases or who served with a military police unit may have been exposed.
Some veterans will have an easier time establishing their exposure to herbicides than others. If a veteran’s military occupation required him to patrol the perimeter of one of these bases…dog handlers or military police…and his service records establish this fact, then VA is going to be much more willing to acknowledge that veteran’s exposure to herbicides. But this doesn’t mean that other veterans cannot also prove such exposure.
Provide your own statement detailing the extent of your service on the perimeter—whether that amounts to guard duty, spraying herbicides yourself, or some other work that took place on the perimeter of the base. Find the men you served with and get their statements as to whether they remember serving on the perimeter with you. Some bases had recreational facilities, like softball fields, abutting the perimeter of the base—find someone who remembers playing softball with you on those fields. Look for creative ways to prove your perimeter service.
This is a developing area of the law, and we don’t know where VA will eventually draw the line. So, if you served on one of those Thailand bases during the Vietnam-era, and you now suffer from one of those diseases recognized as being caused by herbicide exposure (such as diabetes mellitus, ischemic heart disease, Hodgkin’s disease, prostate or respiratory cancer, Parkinson’s Disease), it is worth filing a claim for VA benefits.