Making Sense of Agent Orange

Almost everyone has heard the term "Agent Orange", but what is it and who is affected? Agent Orange is a herbicide that was used in Vietnam, Eastern Laos, and parts of Cambodia during the Vietnam War between 1962 and 1971. Many Vietnam Veterans served in areas where Agent Orange was used and have been affected by this poison.

While in Vietnam, the veterans were told not to worry, and were persuaded the chemical was harmless.[1]But, after returning home, Vietnam Veterans began to suspect their ill health or the instances of their wives having miscarriages or children born with birth defects might be related to Agent Orange and the other toxic herbicides to which they had been exposed in Vietnam. Veterans began to file claims in 1977 with the Department of Veterans Affairs for disability payments for health care for conditions they believed were associated with exposure to Agent Orange, or more specifically, dioxin, but their claims were denied unless they could prove the condition began when they were in the service or within one year of their discharge.

Fortunately, In 1991, Congress enacted the Agent Orange Act, giving the Department of Veterans Affairs the authority to declare certain conditions 'presumptive' to exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin, making these veterans who served in Vietnam eligible to receive treatment and compensation for these conditions.[2]The same law required the National Academy of Sciences to periodically review the science on dioxin and herbicides used in Vietnam to inform the Secretary of Veterans Affairs about the strength of the scientific evidence showing association between exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin and certain conditions.[3] The authority for the National Academy of Sciences reviews and addition of any new diseases to the presumptive list by the VA is expired in 2015 under the sunset clause of the Agent Orange Act of 1991.[4]

By April 1993, the Department of Veterans Affairs had compensated only 486 victims, although it had received disability claims from 39,419 soldiers who had been exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam.[5]

Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs has a list of presumptive conditions that it attributes to exposure to Agent Orange. Studies have shown that veterans who served in areas where Agent Orange was used have increased rates of cancer, nerve, digestive, skin, and respiratory disorders, in particular, higher rates of acute/chronic leukemia, Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, throat cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, Ischemic heart disease, soft tissue sarcoma and liver cancer. These are the conditions the U.S. Veterans Administration has determined may be associated with exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin, and are on the list of presumptive conditions eligible for compensation and treatment.[6]

Recently, the U.S. government announced that it would extend disability benefits to as many as 2,100 Air Force reservists who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War and the years afterward.

The Associated Press reported that a new federal rule will cover an expanded group of military personnel who flew or worked on Fairchild C-123 aircraft in the U.S. and at overseas bases from 1969 to 1986, and who were believed to have been exposed to Agent Orange residue.

The VA provided the following list of dates and locations of eligible Air Force personnel who could have been exposed to Agent Orange:

  • Active-duty units, Hurlburt Auxiliary Field, Eglin AFB, Florida, 1970-1973
  • Reserve units, Pittsburgh International Airport, Pennsylvania, USAF Reserve Station, 1972-1982
  • Reserve units, Westover Air Force Base, Massachusetts, and Hanscom Field AFB, Massachusetts, 1972-1982
  • Reserve units, Lockbourne/Rickenbacker AFB, Ohio, 1969-1986
  • Active-duty units, Langley AFB, Virginia, 1962-1963, 1970-1973
  • Active-duty units, Luke AFB, Arizona, 1970-1973
  • Active-duty units, Tainan Air Field, Taiwan, 1969-1970
  • Active-duty units, Howard AFB, Panama, 1970-1973
  • Active-duty units, Osan Air Base, South Korea, 1970-1973
  • Active-duty units, Clark AFB, Philippines, 1969-1970

Anyone seeking more information can call the VA on an agency hotline, 1.800.749.8387,

  1. Hermann, Kenneth J.; "Killing Me Softly: How Agent Orange Murders Vietnam's Children", Political Affairs, April 25, 2006
  2. "Agent Orange – Office of Public Health and Environmental Hazards". .va.gov. 2009-11-11. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
  3. "PL 102-4 and The National Academy of Sciences". .nationalacademies.org. 1981-11-03. Retrieved 2012-07-07.
  4. "Agent Orange Act of 1991". George Washington University
  5. Fleischer, Doris Zames; Zames, Freida (2001). The disability rights movement: from charity to confrontation. Temple University Press. p. 178. ISBN 978-1-56639-812-1.
  6. "Agent Orange: Diseases Associated with Agent Orange Exposure". Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Public Health and Environmental Hazards. March 25, 2010. Archivedfrom the original on 9 May 2010. Retrieved May 4, 2010.