Agent Orange is an herbicide that was used during the Vietnam War as part of the U.S. military’s herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand. It was manufactured by Monsanto Company, a leading producer in many agricultural products, including the world’s most popular herbicide, Roundup. Agent Orange gets its name from the orange stripes in the barrels containing the substance. During the Vietnam War the U.S. sprayed nearly 20,000,000 gallons of chemical herbicides and defoliants in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Many military personal were exposed to Agent Orange during this time.
Since that time, studies have shown that veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange have increased rates of cancer, as well as nerve, digestive, skin, and respiratory disorders. The following are some of the diseases associated with exposure:
- Acute/chronic leukemia
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Throat cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Lung cancer
- Colon cancer
- Ishemic heart disease
- Soft tissue Sarcoma
- Liver cancer
The Agent Orange Act
In 1991 Congress enacted the Agent Orange Act (28 U.S.C. § 1116) to better serve those veterans exposed to Agent Orange. However, the VA had been receiving claims related to the exposure as early as 1977. The Act specified certain diseases known to be associated with exposure and granted the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Benefits the ability to designate any other diseases which “warrant a presumption of service connection” due to exposure to an herbicide agent. The diseases originally listed in the act include: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma, chloracne or other acne form disease, Hodgkin’s disease, porphyria cutanea tarda (skin disease), respiratory cancers, multiple myeloma, and type 2 diabetes. According to the VA, veterans may be eligible for benefits for the following additionally diseases: AL amyloidosis 9disease where abnormal proteins are produced), chronic B-cell leukemias, ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, peripheral neuropathy (early on-set), and prostate cancer.
Yet, according to a recent ProPublica article some Vietnam War vets are unable to get benefits for themselves and their children. According to the authors, since 2002 more than 650,000 veterans have received benefits due to exposure of Agent Orange. Under the Agent Orange Act only those veterans who “actually set foot on Vietnamese soil or served on a craft in its rivers” are able to obtain benefits. This leaves out certain vets who have been exposed. Since the Act was passed, it has been expanded to include additional veterans. The article covers not only the groups who are able to receive benefits, but also other groups exposed to Agent Orange who are also seeking to obtain benefits. The groups include:
- Those Who Served in Vietnam: This includes the time period between January 9, 1962 to May 7, 1975.
- Air Force Personnel Exposed to Contaminated C-123 Aircraft: The VA recently expanded benefits to include personnel who served as flight, medical and ground maintenance crew members on C-123 aircrafts that sprayed Agent Orange.
- Blue Water Veterans: These are those sailors who were on Navy ships off the coast of Vietnam and exposed to the chemical in their drinking water. The VA does not currently provide Agent Orange benefits to this group.
- Those Who Served Elsewhere: Veterans who served in or near Korea demilitarized zone between April 1968 and August 1971 are entitled to benefits under a VA rule that took effect in 2011. Additionally, vets stationed at bases in Thailand between 1961 and 1975 may be entitled to benefits, but they must show evidence that they performed duties that may have led to exposure.
- Children of Veterans: The VA claims that there is insufficient research indicating a connection of health issues for children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange. However, the VA does provide for a limited number of birth defects in children of female Vietnam vets. It covers such birth defects as: cleft lip and/or palate, congenital heart disease, neural tube defects, and more. The article mentioned that there are bills pending in both the Senate and the House that would create a national research center to study health issues that arise in the children and grandchildren of those exposed to toxic substances during military service. This does not just include Vietnam, but also the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq.