Disability Benefits for Vietnam Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange

Vietnam veterans suffering an impairment due to exposure to Agent Orange have options for disability benefits.

By , Contributing Author

During the Vietnam war, one of the strategies employed by the United States military was to spray a mixture of defoliants and herbicides into heavily vegetated combat areas to destroy the plants, trees, and crops that provided cover, protection, and food sources for enemy combatants. The most common form of this mixture was known as "Agent Orange," which contained a dioxin byproduct later found to have had disastrous effects on the health of many members of the United States military personnel exposed to it.

Veterans suffering from the effects of exposure to Agent Orange may be eligible for veterans disability benefits, health care benefits, and a free health exam (the Agent Orange Registry Health Exam). This article will focus on eligibility for Agent Orange benefits through the veterans disability compensation program.

Agent Orange Disability Criteria

In order for a veteran to qualify for disability benefits based on exposure to Agent Orange, he or she should have

  • a medical diagnosis of a disease related to Agent Orange
  • proof of service in Vietnam during the period of January 1962 to May 1975 or in or near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Korea from September 1967 to August 31, 1971, and
  • evidence that the disease began within the deadline specified by the Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA) for the particular disease being claimed.

Additional Locations that Qualify for Agent Orange Disability

Veterans who served in a very select group of circumstances or locations may also be eligible for benefits based on exposure to Agent Orange. These include:

  • some veterans who served on open air ships along the Vietnam Coast and on Vietnam's inland waterways (known as Blue Water Veterans)
  • some veterans who served along the borders of specific military bases in Thailand from February 1961 to May 1975
  • veterans who served in specific locations where Agent Orange was stored or tested, and
  • some veterans who served as pilots or crew members on C-123 cargo planes after the Vietnam war.

Veterans in these circumstances may have to meet specific criteria (unique to each circumstance listed above) and may have a higher burden of proving exposure to Agent Orange and a connection to the disability in order to qualify for VA benefits.

In 2022, the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 added five new locations to the list of presumptive locations:

  • any U.S. or Royal Thai military base in Thailand from January 9, 1962, through June 30, 1976
  • in Laos from December 1, 1965, through September 30, 1969
  • Cambodia at Mimot or Krek, Kampong Cham Province from April 16, 1969, through April 30, 1969
  • Guam or American Samoa or in the territorial waters off of Guam or American Samoa from January 9, 1962, through July 31, 1980, and
  • Johnston Atoll or on a ship that called at Johnston Atoll from January 1, 1972, through September 30, 1977.

If you served on active duty in any of these locations, the VA will automatically assume that you had exposure to Agent Orange.

What Diseases Are Caused by Agent Orange?

This list of presumptive diseases changes that the VA assumes were caused by Agent Orange changes from time to time. In 1991, the Agent Orange Act authorized the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to obtain independent scientific reviews by the National Academy of Sciences in order to identify additional diseases caused by exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides used in the Vietnam Conflict. Due to this Act, additional diseases are sometimes added to the list of presumptive diseases warranting automatic coverage of disability benefits for certain Vietnam veterans.

The Agent Orange Act also provides that if a disease is no longer believed to be related to exposure to Agent Orange, it may be removed from the above list of presumptive diseases. However, in such cases, any veterans receiving disability benefits due to that disease will continue to receive benefits, even after the disease is removed from the list.

In addition, the PACT Act of 2022 added a couple of new presumptive conditions, included on our list below.

Presumptive Agent Orange Diseases

The Department of Veterans Affairs assumes that certain diseases and disabilities are related to a veteran's military service in Vietnam. Called "presumptive diseases," these diseases are automatically assumed to have a service connection, and include:

  • non-Hodgkins lymphoma
  • diabetes mellitus type 2, or peripheral neuropathy
  • certain forms of respiratory cancers, including lung cancers
  • multiple myeloma
  • chloracne
  • Hodgkin's disease
  • some soft-tissue sarcomas
  • porphyria cutanea tarda
  • ischemic heart disease
  • Parkinson's disease
  • high blood pressure, and
  • monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS).

To cause a qualifying disability, the disease must cause the veteran to be disabled to a degree of 10% or more.

Nonpresumptive Diseases

You can get disability benefits for a disease that's not on the above list, but you'll need to take extra steps.

If you're a veteran who served in Vietnam or Korea and you have a disability or disease you believe to be a result of exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides, but that disease is not on the list of presumptive diseases, you'll have to show an actual connection between the disease and exposure to Agent Orange. This means that you must prove you were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides during your military service, and you must prove that the disability or disease you suffer from is a result of that exposure.

Alternatively, veterans may be able to get benefits from Social Security. To learn more, see Social Security for Disabled Veterans.

Disability Benefits for Children of Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange

Studies have shown that veterans exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides have a higher incidence of having children with birth defects. In certain cases, the VA may approve disability benefits to affected children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

Agent Orange Birth Defects

In order to qualify for benefits for Agent Orange birth defects, the mental or physical birth defect of the child must be permanent and must not have any other cause (such as a genetic or family disorder or an accident during birth.) Benefits may include health care, disability compensation (based on the degree of disability suffered by the child), and vocational rehabilitation.

Spina Bifida in Vietnam and Korea Veterans' Children

Children of veterans who have spina bifida may be eligible for Agent Orange-related benefits if either parent served:

  • in Vietnam between January 9, 1962, through May 7, 1975, or
  • in or near the Korean DMZ between September 1, 1967, to August 31, 1971.

The child must have been conceived after the veteran's service in either area.

Female Veterans' Children With Birth Defects

The Department of Veterans Affairs assumes that if a child of a female servicemember who served in Vietnam between February 28, 1961, and May 7, 1975, is born with one or more of a variety of different birth defects, the defect is presumed to be a result of the female veteran's service. These birth defects, which are not necessarily related to Agent Orange, dioxin, or other herbicides, include:

  • cleft palate
  • neural tube defect
  • hip dysplasia
  • congenital heart defect
  • undescended testicle
  • congenital talipes equinovarus (clubfoot)
  • achondroplasia
  • hypospadias, and
  • pyloric stenosis.

A qualifying child may receive disability benefits, health care, or vocational training.

Fast-Tracked Agent Orange Claims

Vietnam veterans suffering from hairy cell or other chronic b-cell leukemias, Parkinson's disease, or ischemic heart disease due to exposure to Agent Orange may use the VA's Fast Track Claims Processing System, which would enable them to apply for Agent Orange VA benefits in a more expedient manner and have access to online updates.

For more information, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) publishes a very helpful guide on disability related to agent orange exposure.

Updated November 2, 2022

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