Effects of Exposure to Agent Orange

PORTIONS OF THIS ARTICLE HAVE BECOME OUTDATED AS OF PASSAGE OF THE PACT ACT IN AUGUST 10, 2022. See here for an updated discussion of Agent Orange disability claims.

For an entire decade, from the early 1960s to the early 1970s, the United States sprayed millions of gallons of the blended herbicide Agent Orange throughout Vietnam and the surrounding regions. 

Its purpose was to defoliate the land to remove any covering for guerrillas and was also used to clear areas around military bases. Unfortunately, thousands of U.S. military personnel (as well as civilians) were also exposed to the toxic chemicals.

At the time, concerns arose about the side effects the herbicide could have on human beings because Agent Orange contains highly toxic compounds called dioxins. These substances, shown as carcinogenic in animal studies, indicated that similar dangers could exist for people. Even so, the use of these chemicals continued until 1971, when the United States Air Force finally conducted the last official spray.

If you are a veteran that might have been exposed to Agent Orange during your military service, you may have experienced cancer or other detrimental health effects. This article outlines the current, growing list of recognized medical conditions connected to Agent Orange exposure.

Agent Orange Exposure and VA Disability Compensation

Today, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes many problems as “presumptive diseases” associated with exposure to Agent Orange and will provide VA disability compensation benefits for them. By “presumptive,” they mean that no individualized proof needs to be made that your disease was caused by exposure to this chemical, only that you served in the times and places where you most likely were exposed in order for a service-connection to be established.

Here is the current list from the VA of such “presumptive diseases” as follows:

  • Bladder cancer: A type of cancer that affects the bladder where urine is stored before it leaves the body. The most common type of bladder cancer starts in the cells that line the inside of the bladder. This is called urothelial or transitional cell carcinoma.
  • Chronic B-cell leukemia: A type of cancer that affects white blood cells. These cells in the body’s immune system help fight off illnesses and infections.
  • Hodgkin’s disease: A type of malignant lymphoma (cancer) that causes the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen to grow progressively larger. It also causes red blood cells to decrease more and more over time (called anemia).
  • Multiple myeloma: A type of cancer that affects the plasma cells. These are a type of white blood cells made in the bone marrow that help to fight infection.
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma: A group of cancers that affect the lymph glands and other lymphatic tissue. These parts of the immune system help fight infection and illness.
  • Prostate cancer: Cancer of the prostate and one of the most common cancers among men
  • Respiratory cancers (including lung cancer): Cancers of the organs involved in breathing. These include cancers of the lungs, larynx, trachea, and bronchus.
  • Some soft tissue sarcomas: A group of different cancers in body tissues such as muscle, fat, blood and lymph vessels, and connective tissues. We don’t include osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma on our list of presumptive diseases.
  • AL amyloidosis: A rare illness that happens when an abnormal protein (called amyloid) enters the body’s tissues or organs. These include the organs like the heart, kidneys, or liver.
  • Chloracne (or other types of acneiform disease like it): A skin condition that happens soon after exposure to chemicals. It looks like common forms of acne often seen in teenagers. Under our rating regulations, this condition must be at least 10% disabling within one year of herbicide exposure.
  • Diabetes mellitus type 2: An illness that happens when the body can’t respond to the hormone insulin the way it should, leading to high blood sugar levels.
  • Hypothyroidism: A condition that causes the thyroid gland to not produce enough of certain important hormones. Hypothyroidism can cause health problems like obesity, joint pain, infertility, and heart disease.
  • Ischemic heart disease: A type of heart disease that happens when the heart doesn’t get enough blood. This leads to chest pain.
  • Parkinsonism: Any condition that causes a combination of abnormal movements. These include slow movements, trouble speaking, stiff muscles, or tremors. Tremors are rhythmic shaking movements in a part of the body caused by muscle contractions you can’t control.
  • Parkinson’s disease: A progressive nervous system disorder that affects muscle movement and often worsens over time. The nervous system is the network of nerves and fibers that send messages between the brain, spinal cord, and other body areas.
  • Peripheral neuropathy, early onset: An illness of the nervous system that causes numbness, tingling, and motor (or muscle) weakness. Under our rating regulations, this condition must be at least 10% disabling within one year of herbicide exposure.
  • Porphyria cutanea tarda: A rare illness that can make the liver stop working as it should. It can also cause the skin to thin and blister when exposed to the sun. Under our rating regulations, this condition must be at least 10% disabling within one year of herbicide exposure.

If you have been diagnosed with any of these conditions and served in the U.S. military during specified timeframes and in specific places (detailed below), you should check whether you are entitled to disability benefits from the VA.

The VA continues to research the effects of Agent Orange and its associated health issues and continues to update their presumptive disease lists. Other medical conditions may be connected to Agent Orange exposure even if not listed above, but they will require additional proof. Children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange aren’t immune to health problems either. Cases of defects at birth, such as Spina Bifida, are known to have occurred.

Am I eligible for VA disability benefits based on exposure to Agent Orange?

If you’re a veteran and served in Vietnam during the conflict or near the Korean demilitarized zone, you could have experienced exposure to Agent Orange.

The scope of presumed exposure to Agent Orange has recently been expanded under the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 to include those who served on naval ships off the coast of these conflict areas. Even if you have previously been denied disability benefits relating to Agent Orange exposure, you may now be able to have your claim reconsidered.

The current parameters of service time and locations for presumed exposure and presumed service-connection of Agent Orange health effects are as follows:

Between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, you must have served for any length of time in at least one of these locations:

  • In the Republic of Vietnam, or
  • Aboard a U.S. military vessel that operated in the inland waterways of Vietnam, or
  • On a vessel operating not more than 12 nautical miles seaward from the demarcation line of the waters of Vietnam and Cambodia, or
  • On regular perimeter duty on the fenced-in perimeters of a U.S. Army installation in Thailand or a Royal Thai Air Force base. These bases include U-Tapao, Ubon, Nakhon Phanom, Udorn, Takhli, Korat, or Don Muang.

Or at least one of these must be true. You:

  • Served in or near the Korean DMZ for any length of time between September 1, 1967, and August 31, 1971, or
  • Served on active duty in a regular Air Force unit location where a C-123 aircraft with traces of Agent Orange was assigned and had repeated contact with this aircraft due to your flight, ground, or medical duties, or
  • Were involved in transporting, testing, storing, or other uses of Agent Orange during your military service, or
  • Were assigned as a Reservist to certain flight, ground, or medical crew duties at one of the below locations.

Eligible Reserve locations, time periods, and units include:

  • Lockbourne/Rickenbacker Air Force Base in Ohio, 1969 to 1986 (906th and 907th Tactical Air Groups or 355th and 356th Tactical Airlift Squadrons)
  • Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts, 1972 to 1982 (731st Tactical Air Squadron and 74th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, or 901st Organizational Maintenance Squadron)
  • Pittsburgh International Airport in Pennsylvania, 1972 to 1982 (758th Airlift Squadron)

If you served in any of the above places during the above-listed timeframes and suffer from either a presumptive disease or other condition connected to Agent Orange exposure, you may be entitled to disability benefits.

Get a consultation now

If the VA has rejected your disability claim relating to Agent Orange exposure or gave you a disability rating that you believe is too low, you have the right to appeal the case. Even if your claim was denied years ago, but was Agent Orange connected, it may be re-evaluated now.

You owe it to yourself and your family to talk with a VA disability claims attorney to evaluate your options.

Veterans Law Group has been handling veterans’ disability claims for the past 25 years. Our job is to acquire and assemble the information the VA needs to grant your appeal easily. We collect reports, develop strategies, and make your best arguments to the VA on appeal.

Contact us today for a free evaluation of your case.

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