Vets Exposed to Agent Orange are at a Higher Risk of Cancer
Published October 1, 2021
Veterans who served in the Vietnam or Korean conflicts and were exposed to the dangerous chemical Agent Orange have a much higher risk for several types of medical conditions and diseases, including various types of cancer.
If you know or think you were exposed to Agent Orange during your military service and have been diagnosed with cancer or various other ailments tied to Agent Orange exposure, you may be entitled to VA disability benefits.
PORTIONS OF THIS ARTICLE HAVE BECOME OUTDATED AS OF PASSAGE OF THE PACT ACT IN AUGUST 10, 2022.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.
Presumptive harm of Agent Orange
Agent Orange is a herbicide and defoliant chemical used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. Of the chemical compounds constituting Agent Orange, dioxin (mainly TCDD) has been found to cause significant health problems in those exposed and even caused birth defects in their children.
The VA has acknowledged that at least 17 health conditions are “presumptively” caused by Agent Orange exposure, almost half of which are types of cancer.
The significance of “presumptive” causation by the VA means that if you served in the military in Vietnam or in or near the Korean DMZ during specified periods of time and then are later diagnosed with any of these 17 health conditions, the VA will accept as fact that your health condition is service-connected for purposes of a decision on VA disability benefits.
What types of cancer qualify under Agent Orange VA Disability Claims?
The following seven cancers are on the VA’s presumptive Agent Orange connection list:
- Bladder cancer
- Chronic B-Cell Leukemia
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Multiple Myeloma (cancer of blood plasma in bone marrow)
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Prostate cancer
- Respiratory Cancers (including lung cancer)
- Soft tissue sarcomas (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma)
Additional cancers may qualify as service-connected but will require a more extensive proof process. Research about the long-term health effects of Agent Orange exposure is ongoing.
Researchers have also found connections between Agent Orange exposure and both skin and renal (kidney) cancers.
Findings of a study were published recently in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. As part of their study, the researchers reviewed medical report records of 100 veterans at the Veterans Affairs Hospital of Washington DC. Approximately 56% of the men had lived or worked in areas contaminated by Agent Orange. In comparison, 30% had been involved in the actual spraying of the chemical, and 14% had traveled in areas contaminated by the chemical.
The researchers found the rate of nonmelanoma invasive skin cancer was 51% among veterans exposed to Agent Orange, approximately twice as high as the skin cancer risk among men of the same age in the general civilian population. Men involved in spraying the chemical seemed to have the highest risk of skin cancer. Among these men, the risk was 73%. The risk was also highest among men with light eyes and lightest skin. Those tested also showed a much higher susceptibility to other types of skin conditions, including chloracne, a condition that correlated with an 80% higher risk of skin cancer.
Other research in 2011, the VA reported findings of a connection between Agent Orange exposure and renal (kidney) cancer. Continuing research was planned based upon initial findings.
Presumptive exposure to Agent Orange
As with presumptions of certain cancers being connected to Agent Orange exposure, the VA has also set forth a list of service times and areas where service members are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange, even if they didn’t directly know about it.
According to the VA, a veteran has a presumption of exposure to Agent Orange if they meet at least one of the service requirements listed below.
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 particular 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)
How to file a disability claim for Agent Orange exposure
All claims for VA disability benefits begin in the same way, whether Agent Orange-related or not. If you have a current injury or illness that is connected to your military service (began during your time of service, was made worse during your service, or appeared after your service but was connected to your active-duty service), you can submit an Application for Disability Compensation with the VA along with supporting documentation, such as medical records and other evidence supporting both your condition and the connection to your military service.
For Agent Orange-related claims, you will need to provide evidence of both medical records showing the existence of an Agent Orange-related medical condition and military records showing your exposure to Agent Orange.
In preparing your claim, keep in mind the presumptions discussed above. If your medical condition is not on the presumptively service-connected list, you will need to provide some scientific or medical evidence (such as a medical journal article or research findings) that connect your condition with Agent Orange. Similarly, if your time and service location are not listed on the presumptive exposure list, you will need to provide additional records showing that you were indeed exposed to Agent Orange during your military service, albeit at a different time or place.
If the VA rejects your claim or gives you a disability rating that you believe is too low, you have the right to appeal the case. It may now be an optimum time to talk with a VA disability claims attorney to evaluate your options.
Get a consultation now
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 easily grant your appeal. 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.