Marcari Russotto Spencer Balaban, Donald Marcari, MRSB Law Firm
Agent Orange, Veteran, Veterans Benefits

Important New Information Regarding Agent Orange!

The Department of Veterans Affairs recently unveiled a proposed rule change that marks a significant milestone for aging veterans suffering from illnesses linked to their exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides. Announced in the Federal Register, this rule change, set to be formally published on February 12, signifies a pivotal shift in eligibility for disability benefits. It encompasses veterans who were stationed at various U.S. military bases between 1940 and 1970 where these defoliants were tested, stored, or utilized. This expansion to “presumptive benefit” status is groundbreaking, as it is the first instance where service members trained at specified U.S. locations with a history of defoliant presence can qualify for disability benefits.

Background on Agent Orange

Agent Orange is a herbicide and defoliant chemical, one of the “tactical use” Rainbow Herbicides used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program during the Vietnam War. Named for the orange-striped barrels in which it was shipped, Agent Orange was used from 1961 to 1971 to remove trees and dense tropical foliage that could provide enemy cover. However, its widespread application resulted in significant health complications for those exposed to it, including veterans, due to the presence of dioxin, a highly toxic compound found in Agent Orange.

Effects on Veterans

The health impacts of Agent Orange exposure include a range of serious illnesses, notably certain types of cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease, among others. Veterans exposed to Agent Orange have fought long and hard for recognition and compensation for these health issues, which are presumed to be related to their service.

Recent Rule Change and Its Implications

The locations identified in the recent VA announcement span across Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, New York, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah, including international sites like Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick, Canada, and Kumbla, India. The rule change broadens the scope of “presumptive benefit” eligibility, facilitating access to disability benefits for veterans who developed specific health conditions due to their exposure to herbicides like Agent Orange.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough emphasized the department’s commitment to extending benefits to more veterans, stating, “This proposed change would make it easier for veterans exposed to herbicides who served outside Vietnam to access the benefits they so rightly deserve.” This initiative aligns with the broader objectives of the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022 (PACT Act), aiming to enhance disability benefit access for veterans affected by various toxic exposures during military service.

Vietnam War-era veterans, previously recognized for benefits related to Agent Orange exposure, will see clarified eligibility, especially those who served in specified offshore waters of Vietnam. Moreover, the expansion includes veterans stationed in regions like American Samoa, Cambodia, Guam, the Johnson Atolls, Korea, Laos, and Thailand during the 1960s and 1970s, acknowledging a wider timeline of military service linked to herbicide exposure.

This rule change, though not immediately effective, is a crucial step forward in acknowledging the sacrifices and struggles of veterans affected by toxic exposures. It represents a significant advancement in the ongoing effort to ensure that all veterans receive the care and support they deserve for service-related health issues.

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