This is a major victory for these veterans and reservists who have been denied for over four decades. (Agent Orange Act of 1991)
According to US News “…the VA had repeatedly denied claims submitted since 2011 by C-123 reservists, saying it was unlikely they could have been exposed to Agent Orange from the residue” (2).
Prior to the new federal rule, 1 out of 6 disability checks issued by the VA has been Agent-Orange related.
The addition of Air Force veterans and reservists will have an estimated cost of $47.5 million that will span a 10-year period. In addition, “separate health care coverage” will be tacked on to this cost.
Who Is Eligible?
According to US News, the new rule includes, “…military personnel who flew or worked on Fairchild C-123 aircraft in the U.S. from 1969 to 1986 and were believed to have been exposed to Agent Orange residue. The planes had been used to spray millions of gallons of the chemical herbicide during the Vietnam War.”
The VA qualifications include active duty and reservists. Active duty qualifications: (3)
–> Served in a regular Air Force unit location where a contaminated C-123 was assigned.
–> Had regular and repeated contact with C-123 aircraft through flight, ground, or medical duties.
–> Have an Agent Orange-related disability.
–> Must have an Agent Orange related disability and were assigned to flight, ground, or medical crew duties at any of the listed Air Force Bases (AFB).
While the new federal rule hallmarks an additional category for Agent Orange exposure, one group is still waiting for compensation, the Blue Water Veterans.
According to US News, the VA is “still citing weaker scientific evidence” concerning the harmful effects of dioxin (chemical in Agent Orange). Standing on this “evidence,” the VA continues to deny coverage for “roughly 200,000 ‘Blue Water’ veterans who say they were exposed to Agent Orange while serving aboard deep-water naval vessels off Vietnam’s coast.”
This group of veterans has unsuccessfully attempted to get benefits through the introduction of Congressional bills (4).
VA Finally Consented Thanks to New Report
In January 2015, The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine published the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report that examined the Air Force (AF) Reserve personnel from 1972 -1982. This included “approximately 1,500 to 2,100 U.S. Air Force (AF) Reserve personnel trained and worked on C-123 aircraft that previously had been used to spray herbicides, including Agent Orange (AO), during Operation Ranch Hand (ORH) in the Vietnam War” (5).
When samples were examined from these aircraft, Agent Orange residues were discovered. The report states, “However, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) considers AF Reservists who served in ORH C-123s ineligible for health care and disability coverage under the Agent Orange Act of 1991.”
The report states that in 2014 the “VA asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to evaluate whether service in ORH C-123s could have exposed AF Reservists to herbicide residues at levels harmful to their health” (6).
The IOM committee’s key findings are summarized in the report and include:
–> “AF reservists would have experienced some exposure to chemicals from herbicide residue when working inside ORH C-123s.”
–> “Surface levels at the time of the reservists’ exposure could not be extrapolated from the sampling measurements gathered long after the reservists had worked in the aircraft, but levels must have been at least as high as the available sampling results.”
–> “It is plausible that, at least in some cases (which cannot be associated with specific individuals), the reservists’ exposure exceeded health guidelines for workers in enclosed settings.”
Chemical Manufacturers Settled 1984 Lawsuit
The Agent Orange chemical manufacturers and US government have long denied responsibility for the debilitating illnesses and symptoms the Vietnam veterans suffer. However, the 1984 veteran lawsuit against the chemical manufacturers resulted in a $180 million settlement.
Agent Orange Record (AOR) reports that those veterans saw a small financial compensation. On an average, each veteran received $3,800. Those certified as 100% disabled received $12,800 paid out over a ten-year period (7).
“Dow Chemical and Monsanto were the two largest producers of Agent Orange for the U.S. military, and were named in the suit, along with the dozens of other companies (Diamond Shamrock, Uniroyal, Thompson Chemicals, Hercules, etc.)” (8).
During the years Agent Orange was used in Vietnam, it was not considered by international law to be a poison. In fact, “… the U.S. was not prohibited from using it as a herbicide; and the companies which produced the substance were not liable for the method of its use by the government.”
Organic Consumers Association (OCA) reports that from “1962 to 1970, the US military sprayed 72 million liters of herbicides, mostly Agent Orange, in Vietnam.” This chemical warfare exposed over “one million Vietnamese.” Also exposed to the chemical were American military personnel as well as allied troops (9).
Agent Orange Report Claims No One Considered Risks to Troops
The OCA examined a 1979 report written by Dr. James Clary, creator of the spray tank for Agent Orange that was used to spray over the jungles of Vietnam. As unfathomable as it sounds, Dr. Clary writes that no one considered the possibility that Agent Orange would also harm the US and allied troops.
According to OCA, those involved in the decision process were in Dr. Clary’s words, “aware of the potential for damage due to dioxin contamination in the herbicide. However, because the material was to be used on the ‘enemy,’ none of us were overly concerned. We never considered a scenario in which our own personnel would become contaminated with the herbicide.”
One of the two largest manufacturers of Agent Orange devotes a web page to the topic. The Monsanto website states that it was “one of nine wartime government contractors who manufactured Agent Orange” (10).
Monsanto exonerates itself from any responsibility of the chemical, “U.S. courts have determined that wartime contractors (such as the former Monsanto) who produced Agent Orange for the government are not responsible for damage claims associated with the chemistry.”
And were there any health consequences of exposure to the chemical? According to the Monsanto website – no.
While a causal connection linking Agent Orange to chronic disease in humans has not been established, some governments have made the decision to provide certain medical benefits to veterans and their families even though there has not been a determination that an individual’s health problem was caused by Agent Orange. In addition, governments and non-governmental humanitarian organizations have increased funding of environmental and healthcare services to help address potential problems that may exist in Vietnam from the use of Agent Orange” (9).
Dow’s Response to Agent Orange Responsibility
The Dow website response to Agent Orange also has a separate webpage and states, “As a nation at war, the U.S. government compelled a number of companies to produce Agent Orange under the Defense Production Act. The government specified how Agent Orange would be produced and then subsequently controlled its transportation, storage, and use” (11).
The scientific investigation of Agent Orange has gone on since the Vietnam War and continues today. The very substantial body of human evidence on Agent Orange does not establish that veterans’ illnesses are caused by Agent Orange.
In June 2015, the Organic Consumers organization headline read, “U.S. government admits it poisoned soldiers with Agent Orange after decades of denial.” According to Organic Consumers, “As many Vietnam vets know, dioxin has been linked to cancers, birth defects, diabetes and other ailments and disabilities.”`
References & Image Credits:
(1) TSW: How Agent Orange Led to Ischemic Heart Disease in Veterans
(2) US News
(3) Veterans Administration
(4) Blue Water Navy
(6) National Academies
(7) Agent Orange Record
(8) Wikipedia: Agent Orange
(9) Organic Consumers
(12) Wikipedia: Bill Cosby Photos
(13) Wikipedia: The Cosby Show Cast Photo
(14) 10 News: Gloria Allred