Agent Orange Exposure
THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN UPDATED AS OF PASSAGE OF THE PACT ACT WHICH BECAME LAW AUGUST 10, 2022.
Over 50 years have passed since the Vietnam War was fought, but veterans continue to feel the effects of their service, including suffering a wide range of medical conditions that are the result of Agent Orange exposure.
Over the past years, the military and the VA have acknowledged that Agent Orange was widely used throughout Southeast Asia during that conflict and even military that did not have boots on the ground in Vietnam were exposed. They also have increasingly acknowledged connections between that exposure and veteran health problems.
Monthly, tax-free, benefits are available from the VA for veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and who are currently diagnosed with a lengthy list of medical conditions.
What is Agent Orange?
“Agent Orange” refers to a mix of tactical herbicides the U.S. military sprayed in the jungles of Vietnam and around the Korean demilitarized zone to remove trees and dense tropical foliage that provided enemy cover. Herbicides were also used by the U.S. military to defoliate military facilities in the U.S. and in other countries as far back as the 1950s.
What medical problems can Agent Orange exposure cause?
As of late 2022, the VA presumes that following diseases are caused by exposure to Agent Orange:
- AL Amyloidosis (rare disease caused when an abnormal protein, amyloid, enters tissues or organs)
- Chronic B-cell Leukemias (type of cancer which affects white blood cells)
- Chloracne (or similar acneform disease) (skin condition that occurs soon after exposure to chemicals; must be at least 10% disabling within one year of exposure)
- Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 (disease characterized by high blood sugar levels resulting from the body’s inability to respond properly to the hormone insulin)
- Hodgkin’s Disease malignant lymphoma (cancer) (characterized by progressive enlargement of the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen, and by progressive anemia)
- Ischemic Heart Disease disease (characterized by a reduced supply of blood to the heart, that leads to chest pain)
- Multiple Myeloma cancer of plasma cells (a type of white blood cell in bone marrow)
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (group of cancers that affect the lymph glands and other lymphatic tissue)
- Parkinson’s Disease (progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects muscle movement)
- Peripheral Neuropathy (early-onset nervous system condition that causes numbness, tingling, and motor weakness; must be at least 10 percent disabling within one year of exposure)
- Porphyria Cutanea Tarda (disorder characterized by liver dysfunction and by thinning and blistering of the skin in sun-exposed areas; must be at least 10 percent disabling within one year of exposure)
- Prostate Cancer
- Respiratory Cancers (including cancers of the lung, larynx, trachea, and bronchus)
- Soft Tissue Sarcomas (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma) (a group of cancers in body tissues such as muscle, fat, blood and lymph vessels, and connective tissues)
- Children with Birth Defects (spina bifida and other birth defects in children conceived after exposure)
- Lou Gehrig’s Disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS) (for veterans who had 90 days or more continuous active military service is related to their service, although ALS is not related to Agent Orange exposure)
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS)
The VA continues to add conditions to this list, the most recently as a result of the PACT Act.
Who was exposed to Agent Orange?
In addition to the intended enemy targets, US military personnel were also exposed to these toxic chemicals. It has taken decades of pressure on the military and the VA to acknowledge that Agent Orange was used, where it was used, how widespread exposure was, and what scientists have shown to be detrimental effects of exposure. However, the VA now presumes that veterans who served in certain geographic areas and during certain time periods were exposed to Agent Orange.
This “presumption” is important because it saves veterans from having to individually prove to the government that they were exposed to Agent Orange. In the past, this had been a difficult task.
Even if you previously were denied a VA disability claim for Agent Orange exposure, keep reading because the law and regulations may have changed since then.
When is Agent Orange exposure presumed?
As of April 2023, the VA presumes that Veterans were exposed to Agent Orange in the following locations and timeframes.
- In or around Vietnam during the time period of January 9, 1962 – May 7, 1975 –
- “Boots on the ground” in Vietnam
- “Brown Water Navy Veterans” – those who made brief visits ashore or service aboard a ship that operated on the inland waterways of Vietnam (including the “Mekong Delta Mobile Afloat Force” or “Mobile Riverine Force”)
- “Blue Water Navy Veterans” – those who served on large ships used to arry out missions along Vietnam coastal waters, including hospital ships, harbor repair ships, mine sweepers, seaplane tenders, and destroyers that sent crew members ashore.
- In or near the Korean demilitarized zone, between April 1, 1968 – August 31, 1971.
- On any U.S. or Royal Thai military base in Thailand from January 9, 1962, through June 30, 1976.
- In Laos, from December 1, 1965, through September 30, 1969.
- In Cambodia at Mimot or Krek, Kampong Cham Province from April 16, 1969, through April 30, 1969.
- On Guam or American Samoa or in the territorial waters off of Guam or American Samoa from January 9, 1962, through July 30, 1980.
- On Johnston Atoll or on a ship that called at Johnston Atoll from January 1, 1972, through September 30, 1977.
- Regular and repeated operation, maintenance, or service onboard C-123 aircraft while serving in the Air Force or Air Force Reserve during the Vietnam era.
What does presumed exposure to Agent Orange mean?
The “presumptive policy” makes it easier for veterans to prove that they are entitled to receive monthly disability payments from the VA. Veterans who are applying for VA disability compensation need to prove that (1) they have a current medical or psychiatric condition; (2) that something happened in service (such as injury, Agent Orange exposure, etc); and (3) that there is a connection (“nexus”) between the two.
A “presumption” can be used as the proof of connection. If you have any one of a list of certain conditions and did military service in the specified place and time, the VA simply presumes – assumes without further proof – that you were exposed to Agent Orange and that your condition was caused by that exposure.
Can you prove actual exposure when exposure to Agent Orange is not presumed?
Even if you did not serve in Vietnam or the Korean demilitarized zone during the specified time periods, you can still apply for disability compensation if you were exposed to an herbicide while in the military and believe it led to the onset of a disease. This includes:
- Veterans who served on or near the perimeters of military bases in Thailand during the Vietnam Era.
- Veterans who served where herbicides were tested and stored outside of Vietnam.
- Veterans who were crew members on C-123 planes flown after the Vietnam War.
- Veterans associated with Department of Defense (DoD) projects to test, dispose of, or store herbicides in the U.S.
Assuming Agent Orange exposure, what evidence is needed to prove your disability claim?
If you are seeking service connection for one of the diseases VA presumes is associated with exposure to herbicides during service, VA requires the following:
- A medical diagnosis of a disease which VA recognizes as being associated with Agent Orange (listed above);
- Competent evidence of service in Vietnam or the other locations listed above; and Competent medical evidence that the disease began within the deadline (if any).
If you believe that you have a disease caused by herbicide exposure, but that disease is not on the list of diseases associated with Agent Orange, you may still apply for service-connection. In these cases, VA requires all of the following:
- Competent medical evidence of a current disability,
- Competent medical evidence of an actual connection between herbicide exposure and the current disability, AND
- Competent evidence of:
a. service in Vietnam or at or near the Korean demilitarized zone during the dates shown above, or
b. exposure to herbicides in a location other than Vietnam or the Korean demilitarized zone.
What should I do if I think I am entitled to VA disability benefits because of Agent Orange exposure?
The first step for requesting compensation for Agent Orange exposure is to file an initial claim application with the VA. You don’t need a lawyer to do this; in fact, federal law prohibits anyone charging a veteran for preparing and filing this initial claim application. Help is available, however, with veteran service officers (VSO) available across the country. You can search for an accredited representative here.
In order to process your initial claim, the VA will need to access your service records and medical records, and may request that you have your condition evaluated at a C&P Exam (compensation & pension exam) with a local medical professional.
Hopefully, the VA will consider and grant your initial claim and assign a disability rating number that matches up with your symptoms and the severity of your condition. Based on this disability rating, the VA calculates how much it will pay you monthly in tax-free benefits and also provide backpay to cover the timeframe between filing your claim and their decision.
If your claim is denied or underrated (the disability rating number is lower than you believe is correct), don’t give up. The VA often gets things wrong. You have one year after the date of your decision letter to file an appeal with the VA asking them to review the matter again, sometimes adding additional information to your file.
Have you already been denied or underrated for your Agent Orange claim?
If you have been denied or underrated on your initial Agent Orange claim and want to appeal the decision, have your ratings decision reviewed by experienced VA disability appeal attorneys at Veterans Law Group. Request your complimentary review now.