During the Vietnam War, the Air Force used the Fairchild C-123 Provider, a military assault aircraft, for transporting military personnel and equipment, evacuation of wounded soldiers, and supply operations for advanced combat positions. The C-123 was also used to spray herbicides in Vietnam during missions whose purpose was to destroy foliage, destroy food supply, and expose enemy routes. Between 1961 and 1971, roughly 3.6 million acres in Vietnam were sprayed with herbicide that included a byproduct of manufacturing, 2, 3, 7, 8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) or dioxin, a carcinogenic compound found in the formulation of Agent Orange. In 1971, after studies showed contamination of the herbicide with TCDD, the White House issued an Executive Order, calling to end what was known as Operation Ranch Hand (ORH) in Vietnam.
Twenty-four of the approximately forty C-123 aircraft used for Operation Ranch Hand returned to the continental United States following the phasing out of the program. These C-123s were distributed among Air Force Reserve Units in the United States, the rest were sold to other nations. The aircrafts were first sent to an aircraft storage, preservation, and storage facility where the spray equipment was removed and then sent to another facility for reconditioning.
Between 1972 and 1982, approximately 1,500 to 2,100 U.S. Air Force and Air Force (AF) Reserve personnel worked and trained as flight, medical and ground maintenance crew on ORH C-123 aircraft that had been used to spray herbicides in Vietnam as part of ORH. Up until recently, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) considered these service personnel ineligible for health care and disability compensation under the Agent Orange Act of 1991.
However, following a recent 2015 report by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine (IOM) on the level of contamination of Agent Orange on C-123 aircraft and its harmful effects to veteran’s health, the VA finally amended its regulation, and issued an interim rule effective June 19, 2015, to include individuals who were in repeated contact with C-123 aircraft during the time prescribed.
The C-123s transferred for recondition were used between 1972 and 1982 by AF Reserve personnel for military airlifts, medical transport, and cargo transport in the United States and internationally. AF Reserve personnel included maintenance and flight crews, either as Reservists or as Air Reserve Technicians. The flight crew included a pilot, navigator, flight engineer, and a loadmaster. In addition to the flight crew, maintenance personnel, paratroopers, and aero-medical personnel (including nurses), all had duties which could have brought them in contact with former ORH C-123s.
Because herbicide exposure has uniquely latent effects, VA will presume that their Agent Orange related condition had its onset during their service. Among the 14 medical conditions that have been determined by VA to be related to exposure to Agent Orange include: diabetes mellitus, ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, early-onset peripheral neuropathy, prostate cancer, respiratory cancers, and others.
Among the group that may be eligible for compensation include service personnel who were assigned at Lockbourne/Rickenbacker Air Force Base in Ohio (906th and 907th Tactical Air Groups or 355th and 356th Tactical Airlift Squadron), Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts (731st Tactical Air Squadron and 74th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron) or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, International Airport (758th Airlift Squadron), and active duty personnel who served in a regular USAF unit location where a contaminated C-123 was assigned. (Update 2019 – Original cited article no longer available. See web archive)
If you believe you are eligible for compensation benefits under this new rule, you should file a claim for service-connected benefits on VA Form 526EZ available at your local regional office or online at http://www.va.gov/vaforms/ or file a claim online at https://www.ebenefits.va.gov. Survivors whose spouses died from Agent Orange related disease should file a claim for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation on VA Form 21-534EZ.