Long Term Effects of Agent Orange Exposure
Published October 29, 2021
It may have been 50 years since the Vietnam War, but veterans continue to feel the effects of their service in the form of medical conditions. The long-term effects of Agent Orange exposure continue to be studied by scientists, and veterans continue to file claims for VA disability benefits relating to their exposure.
PORTIONS OF THIS ARTICLE HAVE BECOME OUTDATED AS OF PASSAGE OF THE PACT ACT IN AUGUST 10, 2022.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.
As of 2019, the VA has broadened the scope of which veterans may qualify for Agent Orange-connected ailments to Blue Water Navy Veterans. Blue Water Navy Veterans as those who served on open sea ships off the shore of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. There are estimated to be 50,000 to 90,000 such veterans.
Whether you are a Blue Water Navy veteran or served in the US military in Southeast Asia during the 60s or 70s, you may be one of those veterans suffering from the long-term effects of Agent Orange exposure.
Agent Orange and Its Health Effects
Agent Orange was a two-dioxin compound that was used for widespread defoliation in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia during the 1960s. The Agent Orange compound, TCDD, for dioxin tetrachlordibenzo-para-dioxin, is classified as a level 1 carcinogen, meaning any exposure can cause human cancers. The chemical was banned in the US in 1970, but its effects continue to cause suffering in the US and in Southeast Asia, where the chemical compound impregnates the soil and water.
The level 1 classification by the International Agency for Research on Cancer has detailed cancer risks for many years, but scientists are now looking specifically at long-term cancers in veterans and other people exposed to Agent Orange fifty years ago. As time continues to pass since the original exposure window, new human harm has been documented.
Currently, the VA has listed 17 conditions that it presumes were caused by Agent Orange exposure, and they are willing to consider scientific and medical research evidence regarding additional conditions on a case-by-case basis.
The presumptive conditions are as follows:
- Bladder cancer
- Chronic B-cell leukemia
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Prostate cancer
- Respiratory cancers (including lung cancer)
- Some soft tissue sarcomas
- AL amyloidosis
- Chloracne (or other types of acneiform disease like it)
- Diabetes mellitus type 2
- Ischemic heart disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Peripheral neuropathy, early onset
- Porphyria cutanea tarda
The list continues to grow, and research has identified connections to skin cancer and kidney cancer. NIH research findings published in April 2021 concluded that veterans with Agent Orange exposure were nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with dementia.
What Are The Lingering Effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam Today?
Taking a close look at the research done on the Vietnamese population can help inform what additional health conditions US veterans should watch for as potentially connected to their wartime Agent Orange exposure.
Vietnam has reported that approximately 400,000 of its citizens were killed or maimed due to Agent Orange exposure. It also claims that at least half a million children are suffering from birth defects, in addition to millions suffering from cancer. This led to a lawsuit by Vietnam against chemical companies that manufactured the herbicide use. Although the lawsuit itself was dismissed, the legacy of damage caused by Agent Orange cannot be ignored.
Does Agent Orange Still Affect People Today?
Unfortunately, Agent Orange’s health effects continue to affect millions of people. The World Health Organization, in their latest fact-sheet on dioxin, related the continuous exposure to humans through the food chain. Because the chemical doesn’t degrade naturally, it tends to accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals. Most countries monitor their food supply for dioxin, which has been found throughout the world, and the animal food supply. Unfortunately, the chemical compound is still being produced, used, and accidentally released into the environment by industries around the world.
Which Veterans Are Eligible for Agent Orange-Related Disability Benefits?
While veterans exposed during the Vietnam War are one group, other service members had to handle the shipping, handling, loading, and storage of the dioxin while working on military bases or on transport ships and planes.
The VA has outlined some presumptions for eligibility for Agent Orange-related benefits. As noted above, they have a list of 17 presumptive medical conditions that they accept as being service-connected if you served during specific periods of time and in places where Agent Orange or other herbicide exposure most likely happened. Those time/place parameters for presumptive exposure 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 US 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 US 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)
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Veterans Law Group has successfully handled veterans’ disability claims for the past 25 years, including Agent Orange claims. Our job is to acquire and assemble the information the VA needs to easily grant your appeal. We collect reports, develop strategies, and make your best arguments to the VA on appeal.
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