Forty-two years after the Vietnam War ended, the toxic effects of Agent Orange still linger. About 8,744,000 Americans served in the war. Hundreds of thousands of them were exposed to this deadly defoliant.
For decades, the Veterans Administration denied any link between exposure to Agent Orange in and around Vietnam, and subsequent maladies suffered by military veterans. Slowly, though, the VA progressed from deep denial to begrudging acceptance, and finally into “presumptive recognition” of Agent Orange use as a lethal legacy of the Vietnam War.
For those unfamiliar with Agent Orange, it was a powerful mixture of chemical defoliants used by American military forces to eliminate forest and jungle cover for Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops, and destroy the crops they might depend on for food.
Codenamed Operation Ranch Hand, the Agent Orange program reportedly “sprayed more than 19 million gallons of herbicides over 4.5 million acres of land in Vietnam from 1961 to 1972.”
Unfortunately, the widespread use of Agent Orange was later revealed as the cause of serious and long-lasting health problems, including “tumors, birth defects, psychological symptoms and cancer among returning U.S. service members and their families as well as among the Vietnamese population.
I will leave to others the debate on the pros and cons of using Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Instead, I prefer to share some things my fellow Vietnam veterans and their families need to know about “the long arm” of Agent Orange.
First, any veteran who served anywhere in Vietnam during the war is presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. The VA has now linked several diseases and health conditions to Agent Orange exposure. Veterans who want be considered for disability compensation must file a claim. The VA offers healthcare benefits for veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides during their service.
Participating in the VA’s proactive Agent Orange Registry health exam helps you, me, other Vietnam veterans and the VA. I know this from personal experience. I was reluctant to participate until my OCS classmates, Rudy Baker, Dick White, and others persuaded me to do so. And I’m glad I followed their advice. The results of my health exam revealed my diabetes and related health problems were “presumptively” linked to my Agent Orange exposure during my two combat tours in Vietnam.
The VA also recognizes and offers support for the children of veterans affected by Agent Orange who have birth defects. The affected child must have been conceived after the veteran entered Vietnam or the Korean Demilitarized Zone during the qualifying period.
Finally, I urge all my fellow veterans to contact their local Veterans Service officers and other veterans organizations for more information on Agent Orange. It could be a matter of life and death.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at email@example.com.