The Department of Veterans Affairs issued a new regulation June 18, effective immediately, that will for the first time provide benefits to some Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange who did not have “boots on the ground” during the war.
“Opening up eligibility for this deserving group of Air Force veterans and reservists is the right thing to do,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald said in a news release. “We thank the (Institute of Medicine) for its thorough review that provided the supporting evidence needed to ensure we can now fully compensate any former crew member who develops an Agent Orange-related disability.”
Under the 1991 Agent Orange Act, Vietnam Veterans experiencing one of 14 medical conditions linked to Agent Orange are presumptively eligible for disability benefits. The legislation, however, took away the VA’s discretion to determine eligibility, instead requiring it to defer to studies from the Institute of Medicine.
In recent years, there has been a movement to expand the eligibility criteria, which is now limited to veterans exposed as ground soldiers or personnel during the conflict. In February and March, legislators introduced bills in both chambers of Congress, calling for the expansion of benefits to an estimated 200,000 “blue water veterans,” who were exposed to Agent Orange aboard Navy vessels.
The most recent decision represents the first time the VA has expanded this criteria. Under the regulation, an estimated 1,500 to 2,100 veterans who had regular and repeated contact with a contaminated C-123 aircraft that was used to spray the toxins, will now be eligible for benefits.
The Institute of Medicine released a report in January 2015, linking this population to Agent Orange-related medical conditions.
Created by Dow Chemical and Monsanto, the U.S. military sprayed nearly 20 million gallons of Agent Orange over Vietnam. The toxic chemical has since been linked to numerous birth defects and other impairments that continue to devastate people in Vietnam four decades later.
In the U.S., one in six applications for veterans disability benefits are related to Agent-Orange related disabilities, according to the Associated Press.