During the Vietnam War from 1962 to 1971, the U.S. military used a herbicide known as Agent Orange to clear dense foliage and trees that provided enemies with places to hide. The U.S. military produced more than 19 million gallons of herbicide while in Vietnam and used Agent Orange the most often. The name Agent Orange refers to an orange stripe on each herbicide barrel rather than its ingredients.
Former service members have developed prostate cancer, heart disease, and other serious medical conditions since the United States pulled out of Vietnam. Some later had children with significant birth defects like spina bifida due to a parent’s Agent Orange exposure. When burned, barrels of Agent Orange produced dioxins that proved especially harmful to the health of U.S. veterans after discharge. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) categorizes the chemical tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) as a human carcinogen. The U.S. government never intended for TCDD to create toxic Agent Orange exposure, but its negligence in this manner has come at a huge cost.
The U.S. Government’s Response to Agent Orange Exposure
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) took two generations to acknowledge serious health complications from Agent Orange exposure in the 1960s and 1970s. The organization only included the most obvious connections to Agent Orange exposure at first such as prostate cancer and respiratory cancer. The list expanded over the years to include probable connections between dioxins and chronic health conditions like diabetes mellitus and Parkinson’s disease. In 1996, the VA added spina bifida as a known birth defect among biological children born to service members from the Vietnam War era.
People with a service connection to Vietnam, Cambodia, or the Korean Militarized Zone can now enroll for VA benefits if they have a health condition caused by exposure to Agent Orange dioxin. Once approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Vietnam veterans qualify for government-paid healthcare and financial compensation. Until recently, these same benefits have not been available to service members who served in Okinawa and have reasonable probability that they also suffered ill health effects due to the usage of Agent Orange.
Evidence of Agent Orange Use in Okinawa Released by the Pentagon
In September 2015, members of the Pentagon used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to release an 82-page report prepared by the United States Army, Navy, and Marine Corps regarding previously unknown data about Agent Orange exposure in Okinawa. The entire report focused on an outdoor storage area measuring 48,000 square feet that held Vietnamese retrograde shipments. This included herbicides with toxic defoliants, the same type that sickened so many Vietnam veterans who served in known danger areas.
The U.S. military tested the soil and water in Okinawa from the area mentioned in the report in the mid-1970s. The United States Marine Corps determined a high concentration of dioxin was present in the soil and water at that time. The Pentagon denied this possibility immediately and as recently as 2015. It took an 18-month fight under the Freedom of Information Act for the documents to surface once again.
Hundreds of former soldiers who served in Okinawa believe that they too developed major health complications due to their physical proximity to defoliants, one of which they believe was Agent Orange. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs continued to deny the possibility of toxic herbicide exposure for those who served in Okinawa City. It would take nearly 40 years before any former service member received acknowledgement of toxic herbicide exposure on the Okinawan island then known as MSA and now known as Camp Kinser.
Additional Evidence Proving the Existence of Agent Orange on Okinawan Military Bases
In 1981, a small group of Marines reported that their superiors ordered them to remove several hundred steel barrows from underground that were leaking chemicals. This took place in Futenma, Okinawa at the Marine Corp Air Station. Years later, these same Marines reported similar symptoms of Agent Orange exposure that Vietnam veterans experienced.
In 2003, an Army report surfaced titled An Ecological Assessment of Johnston Island that indicates the U.S. military stored approximately 25,000 barrels of Agent Orange in Okinawa City. The Agent Orange barrels arrived in Okinawa by way of Vietnam before ending up on Johnston Island located in the Pacific Ocean. The U.S. military then incinerated Agent Orange stock on Johnston Island in 1977 and attempted to remove all traces of it before departing from the island.
Another development occurred in 2014 that helped to make Agent Orange exposure in Okinawa a reasonable probability. Expert teams representing the Okinawa Defense Bureau and Okinawa City discovered an old military dumpster in the city that contained all three chemical components of Agent Orange, including TCDD.
Approximately half of the 61 barrels had Dow Chemical Company markings on them. The Dow Chemical Company served as one of the largest manufacturers of Agent Orange for the U.S. military. Since the experts from the Okinawa Defense Bureau and Okinawa City did not outright state that the barrels contained Agent Orange, the U.S. government continued to deny the presence of the defoliant in Okinawa.
Two Vietnam Veterans Who Served in Okinawa Win Compensation
Although numerous veterans stationed in Okinawa City during the Vietnam War have come forward with claims of serious illness from a service connection, to date the U.S. government has only offered settlements to two of them. In April 2015, an unnamed veteran who served in Okinawa in 1976 and 1977 testified that his exposure to Agent Orange later caused his prostate cancer. The veteran described several points of contact with Agent Orange, including on Johnston Island and later at Fort A.P. Hill located in Virginia. The veteran submitted photos of vehicles he drove in Okinawa and several memorandums related to Fort A.P. Hill to support his claim.
Lt. Col. Kris Roberts was the second veteran to win compensation for Agent Orange exposure in Okinawa. In the early 1980s, Lt. Col. Kris Roberts worked at the Futenma Air Base in Ginowan City as a maintenance chief. It is here that he likely developed prostate cancer from his exposure to hazardous chemicals. Lt. Col. Kris Roberts presented official statements, medical reports, and photographs of himself and others removing barrels of Agent Orange from the ground to prove the service connection.
Although the ruling went in his favor, it did not specifically list Agent Orange exposure as the cause of prostate cancer. Kris Roberts continues to pressure the Marine Corps to tell the full story of what happened to veterans at Futenma in his current role as a state representative for New Hampshire.
Do You Have a Serious Illness Potentially Caused by Agent Orange Exposure?
The two U.S. military veterans who served in Okinawa and later developed prostate cancer from their duties related to Agent Orange should serve as encouragement for others who have a similar service connection. Hill & Ponton, a nationwide veterans disability law firm, invites you to explore the possibility of seeking compensation from the U.S. government for its role in exposing soldiers to toxic defoliants. You may contact us at 1-888-373-9436 or complete a case evaluation form on our website. It is our hope that more former service members from Okinawa will see justice in the months and years ahead.