The Link Between COPD and Agent Orange Exposure

The Link Between COPD and Agent Orange Exposure

Vietnam Veterans were exposed to several toxins during their service. One of the most prevalent toxins, Agent Orange, was sprayed across 10% of the surface area of South Vietnam, where many Veterans were stationed. 

This article will explain how Agent Orange exposure created long-term health effects in Vietnam Veterans, including its link to COPD. Berry Law wants to equip you with the information you need to get the benefits you’ve earned.

What Is COPD?

COPD is a respiratory condition affecting many Veterans from all armed services branches. Formally known as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, COPD develops slowly over several years and may be difficult to detect initially. As such, it can be a condition for which it is very difficult to establish connection to a Veteran’s service. 

What Are the Symptoms and Causes of COPD?

The symptoms of COPD develop gradually but are generally similar across cases. People at risk for or who have developed COPD commonly experience shortness of breath after physical exertion. This can be a short climb up a flight of steps or simply walking around the grocery store and placing items in your cart. 

Long-term use of smokable tobacco products most commonly causes COPD, an activity widespread among service members; however, smoking is not the only way COPD may develop. 

Any long-term exposure to airborne pollutants or smoke inhalation can trigger the onset of COPD. Many lung and respiratory infections and diseases, including pneumonia, may also cause COPD. 

Suppose you or a loved one is experiencing shortness of breath due to mild physical activity. In that case, the early stages of COPD may be the cause, and you can consider seeking immediate medical consultation to get a diagnosis and understand your treatment options. 

Is There a Treatment for COPD?

COPD can greatly impact the quality of life of a Veteran, who may be forced to stop or limit any form of physical activity. Because COPD indicates permanent damage to the lungs’ ability to extract sufficient oxygen from its surroundings, there are few treatment options for Veterans diagnosed with COPD. 

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for COPD. In many cases, doctors may recommend one or more of the following:

  • Immediate Cessation of Smoking: Regardless of whether smoking was the cause, stopping smoking is often beneficial in helping to reduce the effects of COPD symptoms.
  • Medicine: Inhalers and tablets can alleviate coughing or wheezing and make breathing easier by relaxing muscles in the airways.
  • Supplemental Oxygen: A portable oxygen tank can be used when blood oxygen levels are too low.
  • Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program: A personalized treatment plan can educate you on managing your COPD symptoms more effectively. These plans typically include teaching you how to conserve your energy, which exercises to include in your routine, and specific types of food to feature in your diet. 
  • Surgery. In extreme cases, it may be recommended to undergo bullectomy, lung volume reduction surgery, or a lung transplant.  

What Is Agent Orange?

Agent Orange was a chemical defoliant employed throughout Vietnam to remove vegetation thought to provide concealment for enemy troop movements through the dense jungles. 

The herbicidal warfare program (codenamed Operation Ranch Hand) saw an estimated 80 million liters of the chemical herbicide sprayed from helicopters, planes, and backpack sprayers over the course of the war. 

When Was Agent Orange Used?

Because the U.S. government did not understand or formally acknowledge the effects of Agent Orange until after the withdrawal from Vietnam, they used the defoliant throughout the entirety of the war from 1962 to 1971. 

Scientists created the herbicide in 1940 (long before the U.S. entered World War II), and people in the States used it as an agricultural defoliant. As the conflict in Vietnam escalated, the government used the U.S. Defense Production Act of 1950 to enlist nine American companies to produce Agent Orange for military use. During this time, the U.S. military exclusively oversaw its usage, storage, and transportation.  

Additionally, the U.S. stored and developed Agent Orange for years before its deployment in Vietnam. Some of the largest storage locations of Agent Orange include:

  • Cambodia: Mimot or Krek, Kampong Cham Province (April 16 to 30, 1969)
  • Canada: Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, New Brunswick (June 14 to 17, 1966 and June 21 to 24, 1966)
  • India: Kumbla (May 1945 to February 1946)
  • Johnston Atoll: Johnston Island (April 18, 1972 to July 14, 1977, and July 15, 1977 to September 3, 1977)
  • Korea: DMZ to include I Corps Area (Mid-May to Mid-July, 1968)
  • Laos: Ho Chi Minh Trail and assorted road networks (December 1965 to September 1969)
  • Thailand: Royal Thai Army Replacement Center, Pranburi Military Reservation (January 1964 to April 1964) and Udom Royal Thai Air Force Base (October to November 1968, December 28, 1968 to January 2, 1969, February 2 to 5, 1969, and August 31, 1969 to September 7, 1969) 

Who Was Exposed To Agent Orange?

Because the U.S. exclusively used Agent Orange during the conflict in Vietnam, the VA has defined parameters under which some Veteran’s health conditions may be presumed to be connected to exposure to the chemical. 

These parameters state that between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, a Veteran served for any length of time in at least one of the following locations: 

  • In the Republic of Vietnam (including brief visits ashore, ships being docked to Vietnamese shores, or ships operating in Vietnam’s close coastal waters)
  • Aboard a U.S. military vessel operating on the inland waterways of Vietnam
  • On a vessel operating within 12 nautical miles of the demarcation line between Vietnam and Cambodia

The PACT Act has recently added several other service areas near Vietnam where Veterans may be presumed to have come in contact with Agent Orange. Veterans previously unable to receive compensation for their exposure claims may now fall under the new presumptive parameters. 

These service areas include:

  • Involved in the transport, testing, storage, or use of Agent Orange during your service
  • Any U.S. or Royal Thai military base in Thailand from January 9, 1962 to June 30, 1976
  • Laos from December 1, 1965 to September 30, 1969
  • Cambodia at Mimot or Krek, Kampong Cham Province from April 16, 1969 to April 30, 1969
  • Guam or American Samoa (including the territorial waters off their respective coasts) from January 9, 1962 to July 31, 1980
  • Johnston Atoll (or a ship that called at Johnston Atoll) from January 1, 1972 to September 30, 1977
  • In or near the Korean DMZ from September 1, 1967 to August 31, 1971
  • Lockbourne/Rickenbacker Air Force Base in Ohio from 1969 to 1986
  • Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts from 1972 to 1982
  • Pittsburgh International Airport in Pennsylvania from 1972 to 1982
  • On a C-123 aircraft where traces of Agent Orange were assigned and had repeated contact with this aircraft during your duties

What Are the Lasting Effects of Agent Orange?

The two active ingredients in Agent Orange were an equal amount of 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T). The chemical 2,4,5-T contained trace amounts of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). 

Although the dioxin TCDD was an unwanted byproduct of the herbicide’s production, it was later found to be a highly toxic carcinogen for humans. TCDD can enter the body through inhalation or contact with the skin, causing long-term cellular mutation and influencing genetic expression. 

As a result of these effects, healthcare practitioners associate Agent Orange with the following diseases:

  • AL Amyloidosis
  • Bladder Cancer
  • Chronic B-cell Leukemias
  • Chloracne
  • Diabetes Mellitus Type 2
  • Hypertension
  • Hodgkin’s Disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Ischemic Heart Disease
  • Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance (MGUS)
  • Multiple Myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Parkinsonism/Parkinson’s Disease
  • Peripheral Neuropathy (Early Onset)
  • Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Respiratory Cancer
  • Soft Tissue Sarcomas

Is Exposure to Agent Orange Linked to COPD?

Though the PACT Act was instrumental in ensuring more Veterans received the care and benefits they were entitled to, it did not establish a clear presumptive connection for Veterans who believe their COPD is linked to previous exposure to Agent Orange during their service. 

While that makes receiving compensation more challenging, it doesn’t mean all hope is lost! Berry Law’s team of highly qualified lawyers and case managers have decades of combined experience handling unique and challenging appeal cases for Veterans in need whose initial claims have been denied. The process will likely begin by establishing service connection in relation to your condition. 

Establishing Service Connection

Service connection is the link between an injury or condition you developed during your time in the armed services and a later development of a condition or disease caused by events from your service record. 

You’ll likely need two important types of documentation to create that essential causal link: documentation of your time in the military and a formal diagnosis by a qualified medical care provider.

  • Military Documentation: First, you’ll need to gather relevant documents from your time in the military. Typically, these come in the form of medical assessment records, records of where and when you served, and any activities or circumstances you believe may have caused the development or aggravation of your condition. Sometimes, this may also include the testimony of fellow Service Members.
  • Formal Diagnosis: Next, you can choose to share a formal diagnosis with a qualified medical care provider, who will then write your nexus letter. 

While it is an optional step, a nexus letter can help verify your condition, its severity, and the causal link between the injury or activity you experienced in your service and other current conditions. While the VA has a duty to examine each Veteran with a potential disability related to their service, having a nexus letter may further support your claim.

What Happens If the VA Denies My COPD Claim?

Because COPD is a condition that can take decades to develop fully, it’s often hard to pinpoint the exact place and time that it was initially triggered. As such, it’s possible that your COPD claim will be denied. In that case, you’ll need to take the following actions:

  • File a Notice of Disagreement (NOD): An NOD informs the VA that you disagree with their denial and will follow through with the appeals process. You’ll have one year from the date of the denial to file an NOD. The VA will review your file, the NOD, and any new evidence provided before making a decision. 
  • Request a Higher Level Review (HLR): Requesting an HLR will result in a senior rating specialist reviewing your appeal. These are designed to overturn a decision in the event that you didn’t want to (or couldn’t) supply new evidence to support your initial claim. 
  • File a Supplemental Claim: This option is best if you wanted to supply additional evidence for your claim but didn’t want to present your case to a Veterans law judge. You’ll have one year from the date of your denial to file a supplemental claim. It’s best to submit any new evidence that supports your claim along with the supplement claim. 

The Bottom Line

While it can be difficult to prove a connection between your exposure to Agent Orange and later diagnosis of COPD, it is possible with the right documentation and team of advisors. 

Berry Law wants to help Veterans navigate the path to the benefits they are entitled to if their initial claim is denied or their disability rating is too low. Schedule a consultation today!


Agent Orange Exposure And VA Disability Compensation | Veterans Affairs 

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – Symptoms | NHS 

Veterans’ Diseases Associated with Agent Orange | Public Health

COPD: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment | CDC 

Herbicide Tests and Storage Outside the U.S. | Public Health

Facts About Herbicides | Public Health

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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