Menstuff® has compiled the following information on Agent Orange.
What is Agent Orange
Step 1: Get Help
Step 2: Apply
Step 3: Get an Exam
Step 4: Get Evidence
Step 5: Present
VVA's Guide on Agent Orange
Diseases Currently Recognized by VA as Related to Herbicide Exposure
If You Lose: Appeal!
Working with your Rep
Direct Service Connection
VA Medical Services
Social Security Benefits
Help For Children
There Is More You Can Do!
Resources plus Vet Centers
Viet Nam Veterans Association
VVA's Guide on Agent Orange
This guide describes the VAs current programs for compensating exposed veterans or their survivors. Additonal resources are available to help you understand whether other VA programs may be available to you. (See last page.) The opportunity to apply for cash payments under the fund resulting from the lawsuit against the chemical companies which made Agent Orange expired in January 1995 and is not disussed in this guide.
There have been many changes in the VAs rules involving Agent Orange over the past several years and some additional changes are likely as a result of on-going studies and lawsuits. One important change is that you no longer have to prove that you were exposed to herbicidesso long as you served in or near Vietnam. Keep in touch with your representative for additional changes that occur after the publication of this guide.
Even if you decide not to file a formal claim for VA benefits based on exposure to herbicides, you should at least contact the Agent Orange coordinator at the nearest VA medical center to obtain a free physical examination. You may also be entitled to free medical treatment at the VA medical center.
Finally, if you are disabled but dont think your condition
is due to exposure to herbicides, there may be other reasons that the
VA would agree you should be paid monthly disability benefits. VVA
has prepared a guide on VA Claims and Appeals that may help you.
What is Agent Orange?
Herbicides were applied by airplanes, helicopters, trucks and
backpack sprayers. An official description of the Air Forces
use of herbicides is found in Operation Ranch Hand published by the
Government Printing Office in 1982. Herbicides containing dioxin were
used by the U.S. military to defoliate base camps and other
facilities in the U.S. and in other countries as far back as the
Step 1: Get Help
Many veterans service organizations and state and county veterans service agencies offer free assistance. No matter who you select to represent you, it is important that you are personally involved in your case and make certain that everything that should be done, is done.
Although it can be a difficult task, shop around for the best
representative. Talk to the prospective representative; ask if there
are any limits on their service; get a feel for the person who will
be working for you before you sign a power of attorney appointing the
person as your representative.
Step 2: Apply
Warning: Do not be discouraged by a VA employee who says you are not entitled to benefits. Put your claim in writing and insist on a written reply from the VA.
How to Apply: To apply, send the VA a letter stating that you have a specific health problem and that you claim it is due to your exposure to herbicides while serving in Vietnam. This is called an informal claim and will count as an application (although you will eventually be required to fill out some VA forms). If you have not heard back from the VA within a month you should call to confirm that your application has been received. If you applied before, send a letter that says you are reopening your claim.
What to Apply For: The VA offers cash benefits to veterans with service-connected disabilities (under the compensation program) and to veterans with serious nonservice-connected disabilities (under the pension program). Survivors may be entitled to death benefits. The VA officially recognizes only certain diseases as related to exposure to herbicides. See box on next page. If a physician has diagnosed you with one of these conditions, you should not have too much trouble receiving benefits. Under a VA rule (38 C.F.R. § 3.309(e), the VA is to presume that your disease is service-connected.
Who Can Apply: Veterans who served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975 or who served in the waters just off-shore or who visited Vietnam are presumed to have been exposed to herbicides and can apply for service-connected compensation based on their service. Survivors of such veteransincluding spouses or children and sometimes parentscan apply for service-connected death benefits (the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation or DIC program) or for the nonservice-connected death benefits (pension program).
WARNING: If you applied for a cash payment from the Agent Orange Payment Program (the fund created in 1984 out of the lawsuit against the chemical companies that made Agent Orange), that is not the same as applying to the VA for benefits. Also, if you obtained an Agent Orange Registry exam, you still must write to the nearest VA Regional Office and file a claim with it.
Step 3: Get an Exam
You may be able to avoid this exam, if your own doctor will
prepare a detailed report to the VA Regional Office. Ask your doctor
to both document the diagnosis and to explain its impact on your
ability to work.
Step 4: Get Evidence
The VA may contact you for evidence or for permission to write to your doctor for your medical records. Your response to any VA request for evidence should be made only after consulting with your representative.
To understand what evidence the VA has collected, get a free copy of your VA claims file from the VA Regional Office. If you need to document your service in Vietnam, get a free set of your complete military personnel records from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis using a Standard Form 180, Request Pertaining to Military Records. This form is available from your representative or any VA office.
How Much Money
10 percent $ 96
20 percent 184
30 percent 282
40 percent 404
50 percent 576
60 percent 726
70 percent 916
80 percent 1,062
90 percent 1,196
100 percent 1,989
Note: Depending upon the disability rating of the veteran,
allowances for a spouse range from $34 to $112; and for each
additional child, $18 to $60.
Step 5: Present Evidence
You almost always want a hearing at the VA Regional Office if it denies your claim. The hearing will be before an official (the Hearing Officer) who was not involved in the earlier denial.
Diseases Currently Recognized by
VA as Related to Herbicide Exposure
WARNING: This list may change. For more information, please refer to the VA web site on Agent Orange www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/benefits/Herbicide/AOno3.htm
Under the VA rule, soft tissue sarcoma does not include
osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposis sarcoma, or
If You Lose: Appeal
The first step in appealing is to send the VA Regional Office a Notice of Disagreement. This Notice is a letter saying that you disagree with the denial. Be sure to include in your letter the date of the VAs denial letter and be sure to list the benefits you are still seeking.
Deadline: The Notice of Disagreement must be mailed to the VA Regional Office within one year of the denial of your claim or you cannot appeal. (You still can reopen your claim if you miss this deadline but you lose an earlier effective date for an award of back benefits.)
If you win, one issue which you should examine carefully with your
representative is whether the VA has set the correct effective date
for your award. Particularly, if you previously filed a claim that
was denied, review with your representative the VA instructions
contained in VBA Circular 21-94-1 (Feb. 15, 1994).
Working with Your Rep
Ask questions: If you do not understand something about your case, ask about it. Dont worry about asking a stupid questionyour representative works for you and part of his or her job is making sure that you understand everything.
Be insistent: If something needs to be done, insist that it
happen. Do not be talked out of anything unless you understand what
is going on.
Direct Service Connection
VA Medical Services
The health-care services authorized for veterans whose service in Vietnam can be verified include hospital care, nursing home care, and outpatient care in VA facilities on a pre- or post-hospitalization basis or to eliminate the need for hospitalization. These health-care services will be provided without regard to the veterans age, service-connected status or the inability of the veteran to defray the expenses of such care.
Under this law, health-care services may not be provided for conditions which resulted from a cause other than exposure to a herbicide. If an examination reveals a condition requiring treatment, the doctor is to determine if the condition resulted from a cause other than exposure to dioxin or other toxic substance in herbicides.
According to VA guidelines, the following types of conditions are not ordinarily considered to be due to such exposure:
By specifying that the above conditions are not due to Agent Orange, the VA has apparently agreed to treat any Vietnam veterans with any other conditions. No decision that the condition is connected to service must be made. The allegation that the veteran was exposed to Agent Orange appears to be enough. Of course, veterans denied care based on Agent Orange exposure may be provided care if they are eligible under other laws.
Vietnam veterans have the same priority for receiving outpatient care as former POWs who are receiving care for nonservice-connected conditions. This priority places qualifying veterans exposed to Agent Orange ahead of other nonservice-connected veterans.
Separate from the VA Compensation and Pension exam, you can get an
Agent Orange Registry exam which consists of four parts: an exposure
history, a medical history, laboratory tests and a physical exam of
those body systems most commonly affected by toxic chemicals. This
exam might detect diseases which can be treated more effectively the
earlier they are diagnosed.
Social Security Benefits
Unlike VA compensation benefits that are measured in degrees of
disability, SSA benefits require a total disability that will last at
least one year. If you cannot work because of your disability,
contact the nearest district office of SSA (800-772-1213).
Help for Children
The VA also offers assistance to children of veterans if the veterans have been rated at least 30 percent service-connected disabled. Such veterans receive a dependents allowance. Children of veterans considered permanently 100 percent disabled can also receive education assistance and health care through its CHAMPVA program.
Children with disabilities may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income benefits. One of the Agent Orange-funded programs offers a16-page booklet discussing childrens eligibility for SSI (SSI: New Opportunities for Children with Disabilities). Contact: Mental Health Law Project, 1101 15th St., NW, Suite1212, Washington, DC 20005
The Agent Orange Program provided funding for a program for
families with children with birth defects or other special health
needs. The Center for Developmental Disabilities at the University of
South Carolina offers a National Information Service which consists
of telephone access to trained counselors, to provide information and
referral services for parents of children with disabilities,
including information and referrals concerning genetic counseling.
Contact: 800.922.9234 x 401 or in South Carolina call 800.922.1107.x
There is More You Can Do
Join VVA to keep current on developments; if you are not a Vietnam era veteran, membership is open as an associate member.
File a claim for VA disability compensation if you are disabled; encourage others to.
Volunteer your time and talents to the nearest Vet Center or veterans organization.
Work with groups of veterans to set up a meeting with the Director of the nearest VA Regional Office to review how it handles claims from Vietnam veterans.
Write your U.S. Representative (c/o House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515) and U.S. Senator (c/o U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510) or visit their local offices to urge them to support increased compensation now for Vietnam veterans.
Investigate what services are available from your state for veterans and how well those services are delivered.
Encourage civic organizations, unions, and business associations
to which you belong to take a stand on veterans issues.
Join the leader!
Other benefits include low-cost group insurance, affinity credit cards, personal checks, rental cars and hotel discounts, group travel, discounted subscription rates for the Vietnam military history magazine and more. Your choice has never been more clear. VVA has a proud legacy and its the organization that you should belong to.
Individual membership is open to all Vietnam-era veterans who
served on active duty for other than training purposes between
January 1, 1959, and May 7, 1975. Associate membership is open to all
veterans, family members, friends and the general public.
Veterans Benefits410pg paperback written for vet; sections on VA benefits, claims procedures, advocacy tips; published by HarperCollins; to order from VVA Veterans Collectibles, call 800.626.8387.
Veterans Benefits Manual and Supplementwritten for representative; details on filing, presenting claims for full range of VA benefits; offered by National Veterans Legal Services Program; to order, call 202.265.8305.
Title 38, Code of Federal Regulationsthe official set of VA regulations; available from the Government Printing Office; to order, call 202.512.1800.
Veterans Appeals Reportercontains decisions of Court of
Veterans Appeals; published by West Publishing Co.; available at
Vietnam Veterans of America
Many other veterans organizations offer a wide range of services.
Most states operate a department of veterans affairs and many states
have a network of county veterans representatives. To locate
accredited representatives, call or visit the nearest VARO.
There are no limits on when someone else (a so-called third party) can use his or her own money to hire and pay a lawyer to represent you. This third party cannot be a family member who may benefit from your claim. If you use a third party to hire a lawyer, the lawyer can represent you at the beginning of a claim. Also, there are no limits on hiring a lawyer when the VA is coming after you because of a home loan guarantee debt.
Some private lawyers and some legal aid or legal services offices provide representation free of charge at all stages of a VA claim.
There is an organization of attorneys and nonattorneys who regularly practice before the Court of Veterans Appeals. Its members are available to represent you at the Court or, through a third party contract, before a VARO or the BVA. For a list of these members, contact: Natl Organization of Veterans Advocates, PO Box 42334, Washington DC 20015. 800.810.VETS
If no private practitioners are willing to represent you at the
Court of Veterans Appeals, it might be possible to obtain pro bono
representation through the Veterans Pro Bono Consortion. The Court
will send you information about this opportunity. It is available
only to a limited number of persons who meet income guidelines.
30 years after war, Vietnam suffers toxic
Van, 5, spends her days at home, playing by herself on the concrete floor because local school officials say her appearance frightens other children. She has an oversize head and a severely deformed mouth, and her upper body is covered in a rash so severe her skin appears to have been boiled. According to Vietnamese medical authorities, she is part of a new generation of Agent Orange victims, forever scarred by the U.S.-made herbicide containing dioxin, one of the world's most toxic pollutants.
For decades, the United States and Vietnam have wrangled over the question of responsibility for the U.S. military's deployment of Agent Orange. But officials say they are now moving to jointly address at least one important aspect of the spraying's aftermath -- environmental damage at Vietnamese "hot spots" such as Nguyen's city, Da Nang -- that are still contaminated with dioxin 31 years after the fall of Saigon.
Though neither Nguyen nor her husband was exposed to the Agent Orange sprayed by U.S. forces from 1962 to 1971, officials here say they believe the couple genetically passed on dioxin's side effects after eating fish from contaminated canals. "I am not interested in blaming anyone at this point," the soft-spoken Nguyen said on a recent day, stroking her daughter's face. "But the contamination should not keep doing this to our children. It must be cleaned up."
Vietnamese and U.S. officials last year conducted their first joint scientific research project related to Agent Orange. Testing of the soil near Da Nang's airport, where farmers say they have been unable to grow rice or fruit trees for decades, showed dioxin levels there as much as 100 times above acceptable international standards.
Now the United States is planning to co-fund a project to remove massive amounts of the chemical from the soil. A senior U.S. official involved in Vietnam policy said the plan is evidence that the two countries, having embarked on a new era of economic cooperation, are finally collaborating to address the problem.
"The need to deal with environmental cleanup is increasingly clear, and we're moving forward from talking to taking concrete actions to respond to the issue," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the project has not yet been publicly announced.
The more politically sensitive issues of responsibility and direct compensation for victims remain unresolved. Although medical authorities here estimate that there are more than 4 million suspected dioxin victims in Vietnam, the United States maintains that there are no conclusive scientific links between Agent Orange and the severe health problems and birth defects that the Vietnamese attribute to dioxin.
Still, with a much-changed Vietnam now among Asia's most dynamic economies -- the French luxury house Louis Vuitton has opened a branch in Hanoi, and the hottest nightspot in the capital is a glitzy disco called Apocalypse Now -- both sides appear more willing to seek common ground. Ahead of President Bush's first official visit to Vietnam this week, some also express hope that they are taking the first steps toward a reconciliation on their most divisive wartime issue.
During the war, American forces sprayed about 12 million gallons of Agent Orange over the jungle canopies and jade-green highlands of Vietnam. The most toxic of the herbicides used for military purposes, it defoliated countless trees in areas where the communist North Vietnamese troops hid supply lines and conducted guerrilla warfare.
Because Vietnam lacked the resources to conduct its own environmental cleanup, dioxin-related birth defects have been diagnosed in thousands of children whose parents were not exposed during the war. In many cases, families such as the Nguyens were not warned of the hazard until it was too late.
After doctors told them their daughter, Van, was a dioxin victim, the Nguyens cemented over the small garden in their front yard and stopped eating fish from nearby canals. Even now, however, many of their neighbors remain unaware of the danger.
"What could any of us do anyway?" asked Luu Thi Nguyen, whose family survives on the $1.50 a day her husband makes as a day laborer. "None of us can afford to move. Now I know the soil is contaminated. My daughter has already suffered from this, and I worry about what this soil might still be doing to all of us."
Vietnamese officials estimate the cost of cleaning up the country's three worst hot spots -- including the area near the old U.S. military base in Da Nang that is now the city's main airport -- will be as much as $60 million. Before year's end, they hope to launch the first phase, the development of a plan for cleanup and land use in the city, with an initial contribution of about $300,000 from the U.S. government.
That kind of cooperation has appeared to give new momentum to the issue on other fronts. On Thursday, the Ford Foundation announced that it is putting $2.2 million toward environmental restoration, contamination education and victim relief projects related to Agent Orange. The United Nations Development Program is also set to piggyback with a major grant in coming weeks that would provide additional research funding for the cleanup effort, which Vietnamese officials hope to complete by 2010.
"Vietnam is developing economically very rapidly, and I think the passage of time has played a role in both sides coming together," said Charles R. Bailey, the Vietnam director of the Ford Foundation, which has also funded key studies used to identify the country's most contaminated areas. "There is a sense that this is the last piece of unfinished business between the two countries. It is finally starting to be bridged."
But many here stress that the United States still needs to do far more to right past wrongs, and some are anticipating that Bush will offer a measure of apology for Agent Orange's wartime use when he visits.
"There are new signs that we are moving forward on cooperation with the U.S. on technical issues," said Le Ke Son, Vietnam's top official on Agent Orange. "It is very important to close the past, to close the war between Vietnam and the United States. But for that to happen, the U.S. must agree to cooperate with us in a bigger way."
Push for compensation
What many Vietnamese are waiting for is direct compensation for victims of Agent Orange as well as an unambiguous admission of responsibility from the U.S. government.
In 1991, Congress authorized assistance for American veterans believed to be suffering from dioxin side effects, but at the same time, the legislation noted that conclusive links between illnesses and the herbicide remained "presumptive." That allowed U.S. officials to effectively sidestep a de facto admission of guilt in Vietnam and avoid offering compensation to Vietnamese victims.
At least one group of victims has already made a formal push for compensation, filing a lawsuit in New York against the chemical companies that produced Agent Orange, including Dow Chemical and Monsanto. In the late 1970s, U.S. veterans filed a similar case and settled out of court in 1984 for a $180 million payment. The Vietnamese case was dismissed last year, but an appeal hearing is expected next month.
The recent advances toward cleaning up the environment are of little solace to these Vietnamese. In a country where birth defects are considered by some an embarrassing reflection of the ill deeds of ancestors, many of the children born with the most severe defects end up abandoned or living in squalid conditions with families too poor to pay for adequate care.
The lucky ones end up in the Peace Village ward for Agent Orange victims at a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. In rooms filled with stricken children, nurses tend to patients including a 2-year-old boy born without eyes and a 14-year-old girl whose head has grown bigger than her torso. Many of the 60 young patients have severely limited mental faculties, but existence appears tougher for those who are still alert.
U.S. officials have argued that Vietnam has exaggerated the extent of Agent Orange's effect, blaming the herbicide for birth defects that may have other genetic or environmental roots. But it's the kind of argument that infuriates people such as Duc Nguyen, 25, who began life as a conjoined twin.
Nguyen, born in the south-central town of Sathay, an area heavily sprayed by Agent Orange during the war, was separated from his brother, Viet Nguyen, at age 7. Doctors here say that soon after their birth, their mother's tissues were found to contain high levels of dioxin. These days, Duc Nguyen, who has one leg and severe bone distortions, works as Peace Village's information technology specialist. He spends his days in an office one floor below his noncognitive brother, who is kept tied to a bed most of the time, unable to move his stump-like body and reflexively gargling on his own saliva.
A 2004 study by the Vietnamese government indicated that birth defects in Sathay were 10 to 20 times more common than the national average. Duc Nguyen is engaged to be married next month to a beautiful young woman he met through his work at the hospital. But he is still far from finding peace.
"I find it ironic that on one hand you put [Saddam
Hussein] on trial for using biological warfare, but in another
country where you sprayed chemicals for warfare, you neglect your
responsibility," said Duc Nguyen, who is not related to Luu Thi
Nguyen in Da Nang.
Source: Anthony Faiola, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15692010/?GT1=8717
Supreme Court Takes Up Old Agent Orange Settlement