What Every Veteran Should Know About Agent Orange Benefits
From 1962 to 1971 during the Vietnam War, the U.S. military conducted “Operation Ranch Hand,” spraying more than 19 million gallons of specially engineered herbicide combinations to remove trees and dense tropical foliage that provided enemy cover.
The so-called “Agent Orange” herbicide was the tactical weapon of choice – receiving its nickname from the large orange containers it was stored in – and the heaviest areas of spraying were forests near the demarcation zone and at the junction of the borders of Cambodia, Laos, and South Vietnam, as well as the mangroves on the southernmost peninsula of Vietnam and along shipping channels southeast of Saigon.
Unfortunately, along with the dense vegetation, hundreds of U.S. “brownwater veterans” received contact with Agent Orange, along with other veterans who may have helped manufacture, transport, or store the herbicides. In fact, many of the C-123 planes that were used to spray Agent Orange were later reassigned to reserve units in the U.S. for routine cargo and medical evacuation missions spanning the next 10 years.
Potential Agent Orange Side Effects
TCDD, the toxic substance in Agent Orange, could be inhaled as an aerosol, ingested by contaminated food or water, or contracted from hand-to-mouth transfer. The negative side-effects of this contact is still been researched and understood today, but the list of potential related diseases include:
- AL Amyloidosis
- Chronic B-cell Leukemias
- Chloracne (or similar acneform disease)
- Diabetes Mellitus Type 2
- Hodgkin’s Disease
- Ischemic Heart Disease
- Multiple Myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Peripheral Neuropathy, Early-Onset
- Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
- Prostate Cancer
- Respiratory Cancers (including lung cancer)
- Soft Tissue Sarcomas
- Spina bifida (except spina bifida occulta) in children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange
How to Get Health Exam for Agent Orange
Veterans who served in Vietnam, the Korean demilitarized zone, or other areas where Agent Orange was sprayed or stored may be eligible for a free Agent Orange Registry health exam, a full range of medical benefits, and treatment at War Related Illness and Injury Study Center, provided by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). Veterans’ dependents and survivors may also be eligible for some of these benefits.
The Agent Orange Registry exam is particularly helpful for a veteran who would like to learn more about the potential results of exposure, and can aid in the ongoing research about Agent Orange diseases. The exam is free of charge to the veteran, with no copay, and you do not have to be registered with the VA. While the exam is not a disability exam and does not officially confirm exposure, it does include an exposure history based on the veteran’s recollections, a medical history, physical exam, and any tests if needed. A VA health professional will discuss the results face-to-face with the veteran and in a follow-up letter, and a veteran can participate in an additional Registry exam at a later date if new problems develop.
How to Apply for Agent Orange Benefits
Veterans who want to be officially considered for Agent Orange-related disability compensation must file a claim for that benefit. During the claims process, the VA will check military records to confirm exposure and qualifying military service, and possibly set up a separate exam for compensation. Each state, along with the Philippines and Puerto Rico, is assigned an Environmental Health Coordinator who can help answer questions and assist a veteran in taking the next step.
Besides Agent Orange benefits, a veteran should also make sure to look into the Aid and Attendance pension benefit that can help veterans and/or spouses help pay for costs of senior care. Please find out if you are eligible and educate yourself on how to apply.
Written by Megan Hammons