Agent Orange Exposure
Three million Americans served in the Armed Forces in Vietnam and nearby areas during the 1960s and early 1970s. Agent Orange was used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program during the Vietnam War from 1961-1971, to eliminate the hiding places used by the Viet Cong, as well as the rice paddies and fields that provided them with food, and to clear the perimeters of military bases in order to provide U.S. service members with a clear line of fire. Millions of gallons of the toxic defoliant, named for the orange-colored bands painted on the drums that stored and transported the substance, were sprayed on trees and vegetation from fixed wing and rotary aircraft, trucks and backpack sprayers. The primarily aerial spray program carried the code name “Operation Ranch Hand.”
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Upon returning from their tour(s) in Vietnam, some veterans began to report birth defects in their offspring, cancer, psychological symptoms, skin rashes and other health problems, concerned that Agent Orange exposure or other herbicide hazard may have been a contributing cause to these problems. This prompted wider-spread concern, leading to a series of scientific studies, healthcare and compensation programs directed to exposed veterans. Studies have shown that America’s veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange have increased rates of cancers and nerve, digestive, skin and respiratory disorders.
A large class-action lawsuit filed in 1979 against the herbicide manufacturers (primarily Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical) was settled out of court in 1984. The result: The Agent Orange Settlement Fund, which distributed close to $100 million to veterans between 1988 and 1996.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers health registry exams, healthcare and disability compensation for veterans discharged under conditions other than dishonorable, as well as other benefits to eligible veterans exposed to Agent Orange; dependents and survivors of these veterans may also be eligible.
The health registry is a free, voluntary medical exam to track health concerns of veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange, with no need to enroll in the VA healthcare system to take part.
The four-part examination includes:
- An exposure history;
- Medical History;
- Laboratory tests, such as blood chemicals, chest x-ray and urinalysis;
- A physical examination of 21 body parts, with a focus on the systems most commonly affected by toxic chemicals: the liver; kidneys; skin and reproductive endocrinology; immunological and nervous systems.
To participate in healthcare provided by the VA the veteran must be enrolled in the VA healthcare system and may qualify by: having served in Vietnam between January 8, 1962 and May 7, 1995; have a military service-connected disability; or meet certain income criteria.
Veterans’ diseases associated with Agent Orange Exposure include, but are not limited to:
- AL Amyloidosis – A rare group of diseases in which ameloid protein abnormally deposits in various tissues of the body.
- Cancers (prostate, respiratory, soft tissue sarcoma)
- Chronic B-cell Leukemia(chronic lymphoid leukemia, or CLL) – The most common type of leukemia in adults.
- Chlorane – An acne-like eruption of skin due to prolonged exposure to certain chlorinated compounds.
- Diabetes Mellitus Type 2 – Non-insulin dependent high blood sugar
- Hodgkin’s Disease – A tumor found in the lymph nodes characterized by increasing enlargement of the lymph nodes, liver and spleen, accompanied by anemia.
- Ischemic Heart Disease – A condition where arteries that bring blood and oxygen to the heart are blocked; one of the mot common causes of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF).
- Multiple Myeloma – This type of cancer affects plasma cells (the white blood cells that make antibodies), causing groups of abnormal plasma cells to accumulate in the bones, which can lead to the development of bone lesions or tumors. Abnormal plasma cells can also congregate in the bone marrow, interfering with the production of blood cells.
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – A rare type of cancer that causes malignant tumors of the lymph nodes.
- Parkinson’s Disease – A neurological disorder that limits one’s ability to control some muscles.
- Peripheral Neuropathy (acute and early onset) – Characterized by the tingling or numbness in extremities.
- Porphyria Cutanea Tarda – Skin lesions on exposed portions of the body and pigment changes in the skin. Some sufferers also have liver disease.