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Agent Orange and Disability Claims

Agent Orange, an herbicide and defoliant deployed by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, holds a sinister legacy. Laden with dioxin, a toxic compound, it has left a devastating mark on countless Veterans. For those exposed, the battle doesn’t end on the battlefield; it follows them home, manifesting in health issues including various cancers. Despite the widespread acknowledgment of its harmful effects, securing disability claims for Agent Orange-related illnesses remains an uphill struggle for many Veterans.

What is Agent Orange?

Agent Orange was an herbicide and defoliant used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. It contained dioxin, a highly toxic chemical compound. Exposure to Agent Orange has been linked to various health issues, including different types of cancers.

TCDD (2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin) is one of the most toxic dioxin compounds found in Agent Orange and is classified as a human carcinogen by agencies like the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Federal officials first began to acknowledge that the widely used pesticide was a health hazard beginning in 1970 but it took several years before it was banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Who Was Affected by Agent Orange?

Agent Orange is virtually synonymous with the American presence in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. American servicemen and women who served in Vietnam were exposed to Agent Orange during their tours of duty. Many of these Veterans have experienced a range of health problems associated with exposure to the herbicide, including various forms of cancer, respiratory disorders, and neurological issues.

Those who served in the Navy on “blue water” ships have also filed claims related to Agent Orange exposure. The VA categorizes Veterans who served on open sea ships off the shore of Vietnam during the Vietnam War as “Blue Water Navy Veterans.”

Some Korean War Veterans who served in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea during the late 1960s and early 1970s may have been exposed to Agent Orange. The herbicide was used to clear vegetation in the area. These Veterans have also sought recognition and compensation for health issues linked to Agent Orange exposure.

Beyond Vietnam and Korea, Veterans who served in other conflicts or were stationed at military bases where Agent Orange was stored or tested may have been exposed to the herbicide. This includes Veterans who served in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and other Southeast Asian countries, as well as those who handled or transported Agent Orange elsewhere.

In Guam, Agent Orange was used to remove the foliage in difficult to diverse areas. It was potentially used in many locations in Guam including at the Guam Cross Island fuel pipeline and road, Andersen Air Force Base and related annexes, around or in military landfills and waste dumps, firefighting training areas, and submarine tender support facilities.

Despite the widespread use of the toxic chemical, it was a challenge getting Veterans disability for Agent Orange exposure and resulting illnesses.

Landmark Legislation and Agent Orange Disability Benefits

For decades, a combination of difficulty in establishing exposure, limited recognition of presumptive conditions, burdensome proof requirements, lengthy claims processing times, and lack of awareness and advocacy created significant obstacles for Veterans seeking disability benefits for Agent Orange toxic exposure. Legislative changes have aimed to address some of these challenges and provide greater support and recognition for affected Veterans.

Agent Orange Act of 1991

In 1991, Congress enacted the Agent Orange Act, mandating the VA to presume that all Veterans who “served in the Republic of Vietnam” from 1962 to 1975 were exposed to Agent Orange. Because it was nearly impossible for most Vietnam Veterans to prove that they had been exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides in Vietnam during the war, the 1991 Agent Orange Act created presumed exposure.

In a landmark ruling in 1991, a district court decision paved the way for previously denied claims to be reconsidered. The consent decree offered a chance for retroactive benefits for those suffering from Agent Orange-related illnesses.

Between 1991 and 2002, the VA granted retroactive benefits to Blue Water Veterans following the terms outlined in the 1991 consent decree. During this period, the VA utilized the receipt of a Vietnam War service medal as the criterion for presuming Agent Orange exposure.

However, in 2002, the VA altered its approach, shifting its focus to whether each Veteran served on land or inland waterways within Vietnam. It began denying Blue Water Veteran claims.

Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act

The Blue Water Navy (BWN) Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 (PL 116-23) extended the presumption of herbicide exposure, such as Agent Orange, to Veterans who served in the offshore waters of the Republic of Vietnam between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975. Veterans were required to submit a new claim and begin the process all over again.

PACT Act

The PACT Act was enacted into law on August 10, 2022. It expands VA healthcare and benefits for toxic exposure, encompassing Veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances. Under the PACT Act, the VA introduced two new Agent Orange presumptive conditions: high blood pressure (also referred to as hypertension) and monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS). Additionally, the VA included five new Agent Orange presumptive locations.

The 2022 update to the PACT Act added Guam, Thailand, and American Samoa to the areas where Veterans may have been exposed to the chemical. Veterans who served in Guam or American Samoa or their territorial waters between January 9, 1962, and July 30, 1980, are included.

Federal Court Rules in Favor of Blue Water Vietnam Vets

Most recently, in February 2024, a federal judge ruled that the VA must honor the terms of the 1991 settlement consent decree and pay retroactive benefits to thousands of Blue Water Navy Veterans who served on ships off Vietnam’s coast for Agent Orange-related health problems.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup dismissed arguments that the 1991 consent decree did not cover Blue Water Vietnam Navy Veterans who served aboard ships in Vietnam’s territorial waters but did not set foot on the country’s soil or traverse its inland waterways. Judge Alsup determined that the “objective and reasonable intent” of the consent decree was to provide retroactive benefits to “all persons entitled to benefits” under the Agent Orange Act.

Contact Berry Law for Agent Orange Disability Claims and Appeals

If a Veteran previously encountered a denial for an Agent Orange exposure claim for one or more presumptive conditions, it is advisable to submit a new claim. Berry Law provides comprehensive legal support for Veterans navigating the complexities of Agent Orange disability claims. Our experienced team of attorneys can handle new claims and appeals for previously denied claims, ensuring Veterans receive the recognition and benefits they rightfully deserve.

At Berry Law, our team comprises Veterans committed to serving fellow Veterans. With a deep understanding of the challenges faced by those affected, we provide unwavering support and representation in pursuing disability claims nationwide. We stand ready to fight for the rights and entitlements of Veterans, ensuring they receive the recognition and compensation they deserve. Call our legal team at 888-883-2483 or fill out our online contact form. We represent Veterans in all 50 states and our legal team is available 24/7.

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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