What is Agent Orange?
Agent Orange is an herbicide agent that was used by the United States during the Vietnam War. Specifically, Agent Orange is a 50/50 mixture of two kinds of herbicide agents: 4, 4-D and 2, 4, 5-T. Agent Orange also contained the contaminant TCDD as a byproduct of its production, which is the most toxic of all dioxins.
Agent Orange is just one of the “rainbow herbicides” used during the Vietnam War. These herbicides were used for two main purposes: (1) to destroy the enemy’s crops in order to interrupt their food supply, and (2) to destroy foliage in the jungle in order to increase visibility and prevent ambush attacks.
During the Vietnam War, herbicides, including Agent Orange, were sprayed in four main ways:
(1) C-123 aircraft were used to spray herbicides over the jungles of Vietnam during Operation Ranch Hand.
(2) Helicopters were used to spray smaller areas.
(3) Buffalo turbines were used to spray roadsides and perimeters.
(4) Hand-held sprayers were also used as a method for spraying herbicides.
What Issues Can Agent Orange Exposure Cause?
Exposure to Agent Orange can cause a number of severe health issues, including diabetes and several forms of cancer. If you were exposed to Agent Orange during your military service and developed one of these conditions, you may be eligible to receive VA disability benefits.
Health Conditions Caused by Agent Orange
U.S service members who were exposed to the chemical began developing various health conditions after its use by the military during the Vietnam War. Many studies followed and linked Agent Orange to many of these medical conditions. There are about 50 diseases connected to exposure to Agent Orange and almost 20 birth defects recognized in the children of Vietnam veterans.
Illnesses/Diseases Connected to Agent Orange Exposure
Acute Peripheral Neuropathy: a temporary dysfunction of the nervous system characterized by involuntary “tingling” or numbness in the extremities.
Adult Onset Type II Diabetes Mellitus: non-insulin dependent diabetes characterized by high blood sugars.
AL Amyloidosis: a rare group of diseases that result from the abnormal deposition of a particular protein called amyloid in various tissues of the body.
Chloracne: an acne-like eruption on the skin due to prolonged exposure to certain chlorinated compounds.
Hodgkin’s Disease: a tumor found in the lymph nodes characterized by increasing enlargement of the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen, and accompanied by progressive anemia.
Ischemic Heart Disease: a heart condition resulting when the arteries that bring blood and oxygen to the heart are blocked. Overtime, the heart muscle dos not work well and it is more difficult for the heart to fill and release blood.
Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, including chronic lymphocytic leukemia and small-cell lymphocytic lymphoma – a rare type of cancer which causes malignant tumors of the lymph nodes, distinguished from Hodgkin’s disease by the absence of giant Reed-Sternberg cells.
Parkinson’s disease: a neurological disease limiting the ability to control some muscles. Caused by a gradual loss of dopamine-manufacturing cells in the brain. Parkinson’s disease often causes movement and muscle problems and may be accompanied by slight, uncontrolled shaking of arms and legs.
Peripheral Neuropathy: a dysfunction of the nervous system involving either the somatic nerves or the autonomic nervous system and can cause sensory loss, atrophy, and muscle weakness.
Porphyria Cutanea Tarda: characterized by skin lesions on exposed portions of the body and pigment changes in the skin as well as liver disease in some patients.
Sub-Acute Peripheral Neuropathy: a nervous system disorder either temporary or chronic.
Cancer of the Bronchus: a malignant tumor found in the bronchus, and extension of the windpipe connecting to the lungs.
Cancer of the Larynx: a malignant tumor found in the voice box (larynx).
Cancer of the Lungs: a malignant tumor found in the lungs.
Cancer of the Prostate: a malignant tumor found in the prostate gland.
Cancer of the Trachea: a malignant tumor found in the windpipe (trachea).
Adult Fibrosarcoma: a tumor formed from connective tissue
Alveolar Soft Part Sarcoma: a sarcoma found in the alveoli, the sac-like ducts in the lungs.
Angiosarcoma: a tumor occurring on the breast and skin and believed to originate from blood vessels.
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: characterized by a progressive increase in production of white blood cells.
Clear Cell Sarcoma of Aponeuroses: a sarcoma found at the end of a muscle where it becomes a tendon.
Ectomesenchymoma: a tumor found in certain parts of the skin.
Epithelioid Malignant Leiomysarcoma: a malignant tumor derived from smooth muscle found in the layer covering the muscle.
Epithelioid Malignant Schwannoma: a moderately firm, benign tumor found in the layers of membrane covering surfaces inside the body cavity cause by too many Schwann cells growing in a disorderly manner.
Epithelioid Sarcoma: a tumor found in the membrane covering surfaces inside the body cavity,
Extra Skeletal Ewing’s Sarcoma: a tumor outside the bone consisting of small rounded cells.
Hairy Cell Leukemia: a rare slow-growing chronic cancer of the blood.
Hemangiosarcoma: a tumor derived from blood vessels and lining blood-filled spaces
Leiomysarcoma: a tumor that may occur anywhere in the body consisting of irregular fat cells.
Liposarcoma: a tumor that may occur anywhere in the body consisting of irregular fat cells.
Lymphangiosarcoma: a tumor derived from blood vessels.
Lymphoma: a malignant tumor of the lymph nodes.
Malignant Fibrous Histiocytoma: a type of tumor found in the connective tissue
Malignant Giant Cell Tumor of the Tendon Sheath: a tumor found in the membrane of tendons.
Malignant Glandular Schwannoma: a moderately firm malignant tumor in the glands caused by too many Schwann cells growing in a disorderly pattern.
Malignant Glomus Tumor: a tumor found in the tiny nodes in the nailbed, pads of fingers, toes, ears, hands, feet, and other body organs.
Malignant Hemangiopericytoma: a tumor characterized by rapidly growing fat cells formed in blood vessels and lining blood-filled spaces.
Malignant Mesenchymoma: a malignant tumor in the embryonic tissue or fluid.
Malignant Schwannoma with Rhabdomyoblastic: a moderately firm malignant tumor found in skeletal muscle resulting from the rapid disorderly growth pattern of Schwann cells.
Multiple Myeloma: cancer of specific bone marrow cells characterized by bone marrow tumors in the skeletal system.
Proliferating Angiedotheliomatosis: increasing number of benign tumors in blood cells often causing skin discoloration.
Rhabdomyosarcoma: tumors derived from skeletal muscle.
Sarcoma: a tumor arising in connective tissue, bone, cartilage or muscle.
Soft Tissue Sarcoma: a group of soft tissue cancers characterized by malignant tumors which develop on muscles and connective tissue or in body fat.
Synovial Sarcoma: a tumor found in the lubricating fluid surrounding joints and tendons.
Clear Cell Sarcoma of Tendons: a sarcoma found in the tendons.
Dermatofibrosarcoma: a relatively slow-growing skin tumor consisting of one of more firm nodes.
How to File a Claim for Agent Orange Exposure?
You cannot file a VA disability claim for Agent Orange exposure in and of itself. You must suffer from a medical condition associated with Agent Orange exposure in order to receive compensation. Therefore, filing a claim related to Agent Orange exposure becomes a question of proving both:
(1) In-service exposure to Agent Orange
(2) Current diagnosis of a medical condition associated with Agent Orange
What is Presumptive Service-Connected Agent Orange Disability Compensation?
You can receive VA disability benefits for any disabling medical conditions that you developed as a result of your military service. It does not have to involve Agent Orange exposure.
However, if you meet certain eligibility requirements, you may be eligible for presumptive service connection for you condition because of your exposure to Agent Orange.
Presumption of Exposure
Generally speaking, a presumption of exposure means that if a veteran has qualifying service (i.e. served in a specific location during a defined time frame), VA will presume they were exposed to certain harmful chemical or environmental hazards. The presumption of exposure helps replace the element of service connection that requires veterans to have an in-service event or symptom that caused their current disability. In these instances, VA counts the in-service exposure as the event. This means it creates an easier path for veterans to obtain benefits.
What Conditions are Eligible for Presumptive Service Connection?
Not all medical conditions lead to a presumptive service connection based on Agent Orange exposure. The VA grants benefits based on Agent Orange exposure only when you have a condition it recognizes as being caused by the herbicide.
As of 2018, the list of condition eligible for a presumptive service connection due to Agent Orange exposure includes:
· AL Amyloidosis
· Chronic B-Cell Leukemia
· Type II Diabetes
· Hodgkin’s Disease
· Ischemic Heart Disease
· Multiple Myeloma
· Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
· Parkinson’s Disease
· Peripheral Neuropathy
· Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
· Prostate Cancer
· Respiratory Cancers
· Soft Tissue Sarcomas
This list comes from when Congress mandated the VA look into herbicide exposure and conduct further research on related health outcomes. The research is conducted by the National Academy of Science (NAS), and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) branch. They determine if there is a relationship between the toxins in Agent Orange and the development of various conditions. If you have qualifying service (see below) and one of the above-mentioned conditions then the VA should presume exposure and, subsequently, service connection.
If your condition does not appear on this list, you can still apply for VA disability based on Agent Orange exposure. However, you must offer the following to establish a service connection:
(1) Evidence of a diagnosis of a condition considered disabling by the VA.
(2) Evidence of exposure to Agent Orange
(3) Evidence of a link between Agent Orange exposure and the medical condition being claim.
What are the Locations of Presumptive Exposure?
If you are a veteran who served “boots on the ground” in
Vietnam between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975 then you are presumed exposed
to herbicide agents. If you have a diagnosed condition from the list above,
then service connection should be granted on a presumptive basis.
Blue Water Navy Veterans Presumptive
Blue Water Navy veterans include those who served in the “deeper” water surrounding Vietnam. In January 2019, a decision was issued in Procopio v. Wilkie, where the Federal Circuit found that the “Republic of Vietnam” includes both the country’s land mass and its territorial seas where Blue Water Navy veterans served. As a result, Blue Water Navy veterans will now be afforded the same presumption of exposure to herbicide agents as those who served “boots on the ground” in Vietnam.
Congress enacted legislation which gives veterans precise coordinates where Blue Water Navy veterans were located: generally fitting within the 12 nautical miles seaward of the demarcation line. This means any veteran who served within 12 nautical miles of Vietnam or within those coordinates can now be presumed exposed to herbicides.
Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) Presumptive
If you are a veteran who served on or near the Korean DMZ
between September 1, 1967 and August 31, 1971, you should be presumed exposed
to herbicides agents. The VA and the Department of Defense have established a
long list of units that are presumed exposed. The Korean DMZ exposure
presumption can be more difficult because the standard used is “on or near the
DMZ.” And so the question becomes: what is considered as “near the DMZ”?
The VA has recognized that herbicide agents were used in
Thailand, but there is currently no general presumption of exposure to Agent
Orange. In the case of Thailand there is a policy in place which holds that
veterans stationed on certain Royal Thai Air Forces bases (e.g. U-Tapao, Ubon,
Udorn, Takhli) from January 1962 to May 1975 may have been exposed to Agent
If your military occupation specialty or job duties put you
on or near the perimeter of the base, the VA should concede exposure. There are
certain military occupational specialties that the VA will, as a policy matter,
agree had perimeter involvement. Army veterans in Thailand who provided
perimeter security are also provided this concession. Some jobs that involve
being on or near the perimeter include:
· Military police dog handling
· On the flight line
· In the mechanist shop next to the perimeter
· Managing supplies (i.e. driving across the perimeter
each day into town to get supplies)
Veterans should provide evidence beyond just service
records, including lay statements detailing how they were near the perimeter,
their occupational duties in service, and anything that is relevant to exposure
near the perimeter.
C-123 Aircraft Presumptive
The C-123 aircraft used to spray Agent Orange in Vietnam were then sent back to the United States and used by the Air Force and Air Force Reserves. As a result, veterans might have been exposed to herbicides even if they never set foot in any of the above-mentioned locations. If you were a member of a certain Air Force unit where contaminated C-123s were assigned and you had regular contact with the aircraft between 1969 and 1986 then the Vietnam “boots on the ground” presumption of exposure applies. If you then develop any condition associated with Agent Orange exposure, the presumption of service connection should apply.
To qualify, you generally only need to show two things:
(1) You had in-service exposure to Agent Orange
(2) Current diagnosis of a medical condition associated with Agent Orange.
The VA presumes that veterans who served in these locations and timeframes were exposed to Agent Orange:
· Veterans with boots-on-the-ground in Vietnam; veterans with service aboard a ship that operated in the inland waterways of Vietnam; or veterans who served aboard ships in Vietnam’s territorial seas between September 1, 1967 and May 7, 1975.
· In or near the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ) between September 1, 1967 and August 31, 1971.
· If you had regular security duty on the fenced-in perimeters of a U.S. military base in Thailand or Royal Thai Air Force Bases between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975
· Active duty and reservist personnel who had regular contact with C-123 aircraft between 1969 and 1986.
What is the Agent Orange Registry and Examinations?
These veterans are eligible for the Agent Orange Registry health exam:
· Veterans who served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975, regardless of length of time.
· Veterans who served aboard smaller river patrol and swift boats that operated on the inland waterways of Vietnam.
· Veterans who served on S. Navy and Coast Guard ships that operated in Vietnam
· Veterans who served in a unit or near the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) anytime between September 1, 1967 and August 31, 1971.
· S. Air Force Veterans who served on Royal Thai Airforce (RTAF) bases near U-Tapao, Ubon, Nakhon Phanom, Udorn, Takhli, Korat, and Don Muang, near the air base perimeter anytime between February 28, 1961 and May 7, 1975.
· S. Army Veterans who provided perimeter security on RTAF bases in Thailand anytime between February 28, 1961 and May 7, 1975.
· S. Army Veterans who were stationed on some small Army installations in Thailand anytime between February 28, 1961 and May 7, 1975. However, the Army Veteran must have been a member of a military police unit or was assigned a military occupational specialty who duty placed him or her at or near the base perimeter.
Other Potential Agent Orange Exposures
· Veterans who may have been exposed to herbicides during a military operation or as a result of testing, transporting, or spraying herbicides for military purposes.
· Locations of herbicides tests and storage outside of Vietnam:
o In the U.S – Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin
o Outside of the U.S – Cambodia, Canada, India, Korea, Laos, Puerto Rico, Thailand, and at sea
At a health exam for the Agent Orange Registry a VA health care provider will ask about your history of contact with Agent Orange and/or other herbicides. In addition to your history of herbicide exposure, the exam includes:
After the exam, a VA health care provider will go over the test results with you and provide you with a letter outlining the detail of your results.