The Agent Orange Act states if a service member set foot in the Republic of Vietnam during the war, there is the possibility that they were exposed to herbicide agents. This means the Veteran may be presumptively service connected for several disabilities such as Type II diabetes, ischemic heart disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and others. But Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange in other countries, however, may not be so lucky.
If the Veteran wasn’t stationed in Vietnam, he will have a harder time getting service connected for a disability caused by herbicide exposure. There is no presumption of exposure to Agent Orange if you weren’t in Vietnam. Exceptions include some units stationed near the Korean DMZ from 1968 to 1971; reservists who crewed sprayer planes; and some service members stationed in Thailand (see below).
The U.S. government has acknowledged, at least, that herbicide agents have been used and stored elsewhere, both stateside. Some Veterans exposed to herbicides outside of Vietnam have had limited success getting their claims granted.
To get the claim granted, the Veteran is going to have to provide evidence that he was exposed to these herbicides. The Veteran can tell the VA that he was exposed to herbicides, but unfortunately, the VA rarely believes the Veteran based on his statement alone. The VA is supposed to honor a doctrine that the Veteran’s lay statements are competent and credible. If the VA followed this doctrine, most disability claims would be granted. Of course, we know that is not the case.
The rules for herbicide exposure in Thailand fall somewhere in between the Vietnam presumption (it’s presumed that you were exposed to herbicides, just because you were there) and everywhere else (you may have been exposed to herbicides, but you must prove it).
Air Force and Army veterans stationed at some bases in Thailand are presumed exposed to herbicides, if their duties place them at or near the base perimeter. So, you may have been stationed at a qualifying base, but you must show that your duties placed you at the perimeter. There is a presumption, but you must have to prove it.
You can see that there is a huge gap in the law. It does not mention Marines or Sailors. Marines and Sailors certainly were stationed in Thailand during the Vietnam War. Also, not all bases in Thailand are entitled to the presumption. The list excludes many bases manned by Marine units that provided security at the perimeters of these bases and were likely exposed to herbicides. The list also excludes many bases built by Navy Seabees. The Seabees likely used herbicides to clear land in Thailand, just like they did in Vietnam.
So, what are the chances that Sailors and Marines stationed in Thailand will get service connected for disabilities caused by herbicide exposure? There are policy memos from that era, and more recent congressional research, that show commanders were free to use herbicides, with no accountability required. You may have to prove that you were exposed to herbicides, but the supporting evidence is out there.
Berry Law Firm was founded by Vietnam War Veteran and legendary trial lawyer John Stevens Berry Sr. We are proud to have many military Veterans among our attorneys and staff who understand what it means to serve and know, firsthand, the struggles many of our clients face every day.
If your VA disability claim has been denied, Berry Law Firm may be able to help. We have been successfully representing Veterans for decades. Contact us today for a free evaluation.
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