Over a ten-year period, the U.S. military dropped around 20 million gallons of toxic herbicide across 4.5 million acres of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The mission was called Operation Ranch Hand, and used toxic herbicides to defoliate the heavy forest. The most well-known toxin used is Agent Orange, the most common 55-gallon drum of dioxin found regularly on military bases during the Vietnam War.
In 1991, Vietnam War veterans saw the passage of the Agent Orange Act, which acknowledged that the chemical was strongly linked to various cancers and the development of other diseases for veterans.
The bill authorized VA health benefits to those exposed to the toxins, but at the time, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ definition of exposure only covered those who spent time on the ground in Vietnam, which excluded Blue Water Navy veterans who served off the coast, though also handled Agent Orange.
As of January, 2019, a Federal Court ruled blue water Navy veterans are now eligible for the same VA benefits.
Recent government funding has worked to extend VA health care and compensation to tens of thousands of Air Force, Navy and Marine veterans with Agent Orange-associated conditions. The Diseases and Conditions covered by the VA include the following:
Joe Lyon is an experienced toxic tort lawyer and VA Attorney reviewing Agent Orange Exposure Lawsuits and personal injury cases for injured veteran plaintiffs nationwide.
For major expense reasons, the VA opposes extending benefits to veterans who served on ships during the Vietnam War and have exposure-related ailments linked to Agent Orange.
Court papers show that the U.S. was aware that Agent Orange was toxic to those exposed to the chemical. Dioxins, byproducts of the herbicide manufacturing process, accumulates in fatty tissues, and can persist for hundreds or thousands of years, contaminating areas and can lead to cancer and various disabilities.
After the Vietnam War, blue water Navy veterans began noticing higher cancer rates and other diseases linked to Agent Orange. In 1979, a class-action lawsuit representing veterans was filed against the chemical companies and a $240 million settlement was reached.
Agent Orange exposure presents lifetime risks and in June 2017, 1,500 to 2,100 troops who served as flight and ground crews for aircraft that distributed the Agent Orange were added to the VA benefit roles. Reports showed Navy veterans could have been exposed to the toxins in drinking water and their laundry.
About 650,000 Vietnam veterans have made Agent Orange benefit claims, and now an additional 50-70,000 veterans are eligible for Agent Orange benefits.
Blue Water veterans argue the VA has been “cherry-picking” information from scientific reports to conclude there is no scientific basis to support extending Agent Orange-related benefits. Other experts on the subject think exposure was highly likely for all Vietnam veterans.
It is now not possible to quantify exposures for Blue Water and Brown Water Navy sailors or for ground troops, but contaminated water at the time was a major health concern.
Navy ships were provided potable water from barges operating from shore, where millions of tons of defoliant was dropped. Some American soldiers even used the empty 55-gallon drums for makeshift showers at camps.
Many veterans who served in Vietnam and the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in the 1960s and 1970s suffer from cancer and other adverse health issues. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) presumes that certain diseases were caused by exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides.
The VA makes the same presumption for veterans who were exposed to dioxin outside of Vietnam. The VA presumes Agent Orange exposure among veterans who:
Other injured Vietnam Era veterans who can demonstrate exposure to Agent Orange may obtain disability benefits, include those who:
Toxic exposure cases help empower employees to fight for their right to be protected, satisfactorily informed, and to stay safe. They also bring awareness to challenge and higher the expectations of companies who are not serving their employees justly.
The following disability compensation benefits are available to Veterans:
Disability Compensation – a monthly monetary benefit paid to Veterans who are disabled by an injury or disease that was incurred in or aggravated by active military service.
Automobile Allowance – financial assistance provided to help eligible severely disabled Servicemembers and Veterans purchase or adapt an automobile to accommodate their disabilities
Clothing Allowance – annual stipend(s) provided to disabled Veterans who have unique clothing needs as a result of a service-connected disability or injury.
Specially Adapted Housing/ Special Home Adaptation Grants – provides monetary benefits to adapt or obtain suitable housing for eligible severely disabled Veterans
Service-Disabled Veterans’ Insurance (S-DVI) – provides life insurance coverage to Veterans who have been given a VA rating for a new service-connected disability in the last two years. Totally disabled Veterans are eligible for free insurance premiums and have the opportunity to purchase additional insurance
Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI) – provides mortgage life insurance protection to disabled Veterans who have been approved for a VA Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) Grant
Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) – provides educational and training services to Veterans with service-connected illnesses and injuries to prepare for, obtain, and maintain suitable employment
Education Assistance – provides education benefits to Veterans to assist with obtaining a degree or with pursuing other eligible education and training
Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) – provides assistance to survivors or dependents of Veterans to obtain a degree
Disability compensation is a monthly benefit paid to Veterans who are at least 10% disabled because of injuries or diseases that were incurred in or aggravated during active duty or active duty for training. A disability can apply
to physical conditions, such as a chronic knee
condition, as well as a mental health conditions,
such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
If you were on inactive duty for training, the
disability must have resulted from injury, heart
attack, or stroke. Your discharge from service must
have been under other than dishonorable conditions.
Compensation varies depending on the degree of
If you have dependents, an additional allowance
may be added if your combined disability is rated
30% or greater. Your compensation may be offset
if you receive military retirement pay, disability
severance pay, or separation incentive payments.
VA presumes that some disabilities are due to
military service. You may be eligible to receive
service-connected disability benefits if you have
a qualifying disability associated with certain
conditions of service, such as:
» Former Prisoners of War
» Vietnam Veterans exposed to Agent Orange
» Gulf War Veterans with undiagnosed illnesses
and medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illnesses.
A service-connected disability is related to an injury or disease that developed during or was aggravated while on active duty or active duty for training. VA also pays disability compensation for disabilities resulting from injury, heart attack, or stroke that occurred during
inactive duty training.
VA disability benefits depend on your level of disability and stats of dependents. You can calculate what you think you may deserve at the VA Web site: https://www.va.gov/disability/compensation-rates/veteran-rates/
You can be eligible for VA benefits for as long as your service-related injury or disability is assigned to a compensable rating by the VA.