Disability Benefits for Vietnam Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange

Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange likely qualify for disability benefits.

Updated by Elyse Futhey, J.D., The Colleges of Law

Veterans exposed to Agent Orange during their time in service may be eligible for veterans disability benefits, health care benefits, and a free health exam (the Agent Orange Registry Health Exam). Recently, Congress passed legislation that made it easier for veterans who have medical conditions resulting from Agent Orange exposure to qualify for VA disability compensation benefits.

Additionally, some veterans who were exposed to chemical agents have children who may qualify for disability compensation. The VA offers benefits to children who have birth defects (such as spina bifida) that are linked to a parent's past contact with Agent Orange.

What Is Agent Orange?

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 cause cancer, disrupt hormones, and lead to serious medical and reproductive problems for many members of the United States military personnel exposed to it.

What Diseases Are Caused by Agent Orange?

Under the Agent Orange Act of 1991, the VA was able to add or remove certain diseases that have been scientifically linked to Agent Orange exposure to its list of presumptive conditions. If you have a disease or condition on this list and served in Vietnam, you automatically have a service connection and are eligible for disability benefits.

Recently, the PACT Act of 2022 introduced a couple of new presumptive conditions related to Agent Orange exposure.

Presumptive Agent Orange Diseases and Conditions

In order to qualify for disability compensation, a veteran must have a 10% disability rating (or more) from one of the following illnesses:

  • 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
  • diabetes mellitus type 2
  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • hypothyroidism
  • ischemic heart disease
  • monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS)
  • Parkinsonism
  • Parkinson's disease, and
  • early onset peripheral neuropathy.

If a disease is no longer considered to be linked to Agent Orange exposure, the VA can remove it from the list of presumptive conditions. Any veterans who receive disability benefits for a disease that is later removed will continue to receive benefits even after removal.

Agent Orange Compensation for Non-Presumptive Diseases

You can get Agent Orange benefits for a disease not on the above list, but you'll need to go through several extra steps in order to prove that your condition is service-connected.

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 isn't on the list of presumptive diseases—you'll have to show an actual causal connection between the disease and exposure to Agent Orange. This means that you must provide evidence that you were in contact with Agent Orange or other herbicides while serving in the military and that your condition resulted from being exposed to the chemical agent.

Who Can Get Disability Compensation for Exposure to Agent Orange

You'll need a medical diagnosis of a disease related to Agent Orange and proof that you served in a location and time period where Agent Orange was used. Currently, the VA will presume that you were exposed to Agent Orange if you were on active duty in the following places and times:

  • the Republic of Vietnam between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975 (including Blue Water veterans who served on open-air ships along the Vietnam coast and inland waterways)
  • in or near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Korea from September 1, 1967 to August 31, 1971
  • 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 30, 1980, and
  • Johnston Atoll or on a ship that called at Johnston Atoll from January 1, 1972, through September 30, 1977.

Veterans (including some reservists) who served in specific locations where Agent Orange was stored or tested can also qualify for disability benefits based on a presumed exposure to the chemical. You may qualify if you:

  • served on active duty in a regular Air Force location where a C-123 aircraft with traces of Agent Orange was assigned and you came into repeated contact with it as a result of your duties
  • were involved in transporting, testing, storing, or otherwise using Agent Orange during your military service, or
  • you were a reservist for certain groups or squadrons during a specified period.

For more information, see the VA's guide to Agent Orange exposure and disability compensation.

Disability Benefits for Children With Birth Defects From Agent Orange

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

Agent Orange Birth Defects

To qualify for benefits for Agent Orange birth defects, the child's mental or physical birth defect must be permanent and not have any other cause, such as a genetic disorder. Benefits available may include health care, disability compensation (depending on the level of impairment experienced by the child), and vocational rehabilitation.

Spina Bifida in Vietnam and Korea Veterans' Children

Children of Vietnam and Korean veterans with spina bifida (except for a type called spina bifida occulta) are eligible for the Spina Bifida Health Care Benefits Program (SBHCBP).

Children who qualify for this program can receive monetary allowances, rehabilitation, and vocational training.

Female Veterans' Children With Birth Defects

The VA presumes that children of female service members who served in Vietnam between February 28, 1961, and May 7, 1975 who are born with certain birth defects are tied to the veteran's service. These birth defects include:

  • achondroplasia
  • cleft lip and cleft palate
  • congenital heart disease
  • congenital talipes equinovarus (clubfoot)
  • esophageal and intestinal atresia
  • Hallerman-Streiff syndrome
  • hip dysplasia
  • Hirschprung's disease (congenital megacolon)
  • hydrocephalus due to aqueductal stenosis
  • hypospadias
  • imperforate anus
  • neural tube defects
  • Poland syndrome
  • pyloric stenosis
  • syndactyly (fused digits)
  • tracheoesophageal fistula
  • undescended testicle, and
  • Williams syndrome.

Fast-Tracked Agent Orange Claims

Vietnam veterans suffering from chronic B-cell leukemias, Parkinson's disease, or ischemic heart disease due to exposure to Agent Orange may use the VA's Fully Developed Claims Processing System, which can speed up the application process and provide access to online updates.

For more information, you can call the VA's Agent Orange helpline at 800-749-8387 or email GW/[email protected]. In your email, be sure to include your name, phone number, and VA file number.

Veterans living with the effects of Agent Orange may also be able to get benefits from Social Security. To learn more, see our page on Social Security for Disabled Veterans.

Updated June 26, 2023

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