Agent Orange was a chemical mixture containing a blend of herbicides that killed plants during the Vietnam War. The purpose of spraying Agent Orange was for it to act as a defoliant to clear vegetation, destroy crops, and remove trees surrounding the perimeter of American military bases. Approximately three million soldiers from the United States served in the Vietnam War and faced Agent Orange exposure between 1962 and 1971.
The United States Department of Defense had Agent Orange and similar herbicides created for the specific purpose of combat operations. Areas affected by heavy spraying of the defoliant include forests near the borders of South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Forests located near demarcation zones, shipping channels located in the southeast region of Saigon, and mangroves located along the far southern peninsula of South Vietnam also had heavy Agent Orange cover. The United States military called the defoliant Agent Orange due to an orange stripe placed on every 55-gallon drum to help identify it.
Health Effects Associated with Agent Orange Exposure
American soldiers had different experiences with how they ingested the defoliant Agent Orange. Some breathed it in while others ingested it through food or drink or absorbed it through their skin or eyes. These same American soldiers began to experience a range of health problems due to Agent Orange exposure, some not for years or even decades. Some of the most common ill health effects include:
- AL amyloidosis
- Birth defects in future children
- Chronic b-cell leukemia
- Heart disease
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Parkinson’s disease
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
- Prostate cancer
- Respiratory cancers
- Soft tissue sarcoma
- Spina bifida in future children
- Type 2 diabetes
Medical researchers have tied the carcinogens present in Agent Orange to the above health problems. Veterans of the United States military who developed serious health effects varied widely from the time of presentation to the severity of symptoms.
The Agent Orange Act of 1991
In 1991, Congress and President George H.W. Bush passed the Agent Orange Act of 1991 to provide benefits to veterans suffering from Agent Orange exposure. The legislation assumes that any American soldier who served in Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, faced exposure to carcinogens in Agent Orange that could produce long-lasting health problems.
The United States Department of Veteran Affairs, also known as the Veterans Administration, does not require proof of Agent Orange exposure for veterans who developed an illness related to it. Any veterans who served in Vietnam during the eligible dates and later became ill are eligible for disability compensation from the Veterans Administration. Unfortunately, U.S. veterans sometimes face an uphill battle when trying to collect the benefits owed to them for serving their country.
Criteria You Must Meet to File an Agent Orange Disability Claim
The Veterans Administration considers anyone who served in Vietnam or who operated in or near the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to have presumptive Agent Orange exposure. However, you must meet one of the following criteria before you can file a disability claim. These include:
- You had provable Agent Orange exposure while serving in the military.
- You served in the DMZ at any point between September 1, 1967, and August 31, 1971.
- You served the United States in the Republic of Vietnam at any point between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975. Under the Blue Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, this can also include service on a vessel docked or parked on inland waterways or operating a vessel less than 12 nautical miles from water demarcation lines located in Vietnam or Cambodia.
- You faced Agent Orange exposure on a Thailand military base between February 28, 1961, and May 7, 1975.
- You faced Agent Orange exposure while working with herbicide tests or near an outdoor storage facility in Vietnam.
- You were present near airplanes containing Agent Orange residue or faced residue exposure while working on an airline crew with c-123 planes that the U.S. military flew after the completion of the Vietnam War.
Your dependents may also be eligible to file for disability benefits in certain situations. Before filing your claim with the Veterans Administration, you will need to obtain proof via medical records that you have a health condition related to Agent Orange. You will also need to submit proof that you served in Vietnam, Cambodia, or the DMZ during the applicable dates listed above or were present on a vessel meeting the established criteria.
Disability Benefits You Could Receive Due to Agent Orange Exposure
Upon approval of your disability benefits claim, you are eligible to receive covered healthcare services from providers approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. This includes regular check-ups, appointments for illness or injury, durable medical equipment, prescriptions, and hospital stays. You could also receive disability benefits in the form of a monthly check from the Veterans Administration.
As a Vietnam era veteran, you are eligible to participate in a voluntary program called Agent Orange Registry. You do not have to prove enrollment in the Veterans Administration healthcare program to qualify for free exams through the Agent Orange Registry. The program allows medical researchers and healthcare providers to better understand and respond to the many health problems associated with Agent Orange. Your results remain confidential, and they are not available to the Veterans Administration when making a determination for disability benefits. You will need to submit to a separate physical exam for that purpose.
Ongoing Research into Health Problems Associated with Agent Orange Exposure
Every two years, the Veterans Administration contracts with National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine to review the long-term health effects of herbicides such as Agent Orange on Vietnam-era veterans. The two agencies work with medical and scientific experts across the United States to gather the most applicable and rigorous studies. The Veterans Administration then uses this information to improve its services to U.S. military veterans.
The Army Chemical Corps Vietnam-Era Veterans Healthy Study is another example of research related to Agent Orange exposure. In 2015, the agency conducted research on the relationship between high blood pressure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that it published in a scientific journal. The goal of all research organizations is to make a stronger connection between Agent Orange exposure and current health effects to allow for improved public health services to Vietnam veterans.
Veteran Administration Benefits for Children with Birth Defects Due to Agent Orange
Some veterans who served in Vietnam later had children with serious birth defects like spina bifida. Spina bifida results during development in utero due to the spine not closing completely. This is most common among the children of veterans who served in Vietnam or Korea. The most common symptoms associated with spina bifida include paralysis, loss of muscle sensation, loss of bladder or bowel control, facet arthritis, degenerative disc disease, vertebral fracture, spasticity, and inability to maintain a normal gait when walking for those who do not become paralyzed.
Children born to female U.S. military veterans in Vietnam, Korea, Laos, Thailand, or Cambodia with a birth defect may also be eligible to apply for disability benefits with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. The birth defect need not be related to herbicide exposure.
Denied VA Disability Benefits or Need Help Filing An Appeal?
It can be incredibly frustrating when you feel like you meet eligibility criteria and completed your claim for disability benefits correctly only to receive a denial letter. It can also be overwhelming to complete the application for the first time. Hill & Ponton Disability Attorneys understand and are here for you. Since 1990, our law firm has successfully handled more than 30,000 claims for disability benefits as well as social security benefits.
Hill & Ponton invites you to contact us at 888-373-9436 to start your free VA case evaluation. You can also complete a request form on our website, and we will contact you shortly to schedule a consultation.