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Veterans Law

Agent Orange Benefits for Surviving Spouses and Dependents

Michael Lostritto

August 3, 2022

Updated: November 20, 2023

Agent Orange Benefits for Surviving Spouses and Dependents

Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange may develop serious health conditions, which can sometimes lead to the death.  Widows and dependents of veterans who passed away due to Agent Orange exposure may also be eligible for certain benefits from VA.  Continue reading to learn more.

Agent Orange Exposure During Military Service

Agent Orange is an herbicide mixture that was used extensively to deforest large areas of the environment during the Vietnam War era.  Agent Orange created the highly toxic dioxin contaminant known as 2, 3, 7, 8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) as a byproduct.  This dioxin often takes years to break down once it has been released into the environment and can cause a wide array of health effects.

Health Effects Relating to Agent Orange Exposure

Where Was Agent Orange Used?

Agent Orange was used widely throughout Vietnam during the Vietnam War Era.  However, the use of Agent Orange, and other such herbicides, was not exclusive to Vietnam.  Agent Orange was often used in many of the surrounding countries and areas during this era.

Honoring Our PACT Act: Presumptive Service Connection for Herbicide Exposure

In 2022, the Honoring Our PACT Act created a presumption of service connection for service members with active military naval, air or space service who served in the following locations/timeframes:

  • Vietnam –Veterans are eligible for presumptive service-connection if they served between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975.
  • Korean Demilitarized Zone – Veterans who served on or near the Korean Demilitarized Zone between September 1, 1967 and August 31, 1971, should also be presumed to have been exposed to herbicide agents.
  • Thailand – VA has recognized that herbicide agents were used in Thailand and presumes herbicide exposure for veterans with active military naval, air, or space service who served in Thailand, at any US or Thai base, between January 9, 1962 and June 30, 1976.
  • Laos – Herbicide exposure, such as Agent Orange exposure, also occurred in Laos. The PACT Act enables veterans who served between December 1, 1965 and September 30, 1969 are also eligible for the presumption of herbicide exposure.
  • Cambodia – The PACT Act extends the presumption of herbicide exposure to those who served in Cambodia, specifically at Mimot or Krek, or Kampong Cham Province between April 16, 1969 and April 30, 1969.
  • Guam/American Samoa – Veterans who served in Guam or American Samoa, or in the territorial waters thereof, between April 16, 1969 and April 30, 1969 are eligible for this presumption.
  • Johnson Atoll – Those who served on an island called Johnston Atoll, or a ship also called Johnston Atoll, between January 1, 1972 and September 30, 1977 are also included in the presumptions created by the PACT Act.

Agent Orange Infographic

Benefits for Surviving Spouses and Dependents

VA offers certain benefits, such as compensation and health care benefits, to the surviving spouses and dependents (i.e., children and  parents) of veterans who passed away as the result of diseases related to Agent Orange exposure.

DIC Benefits

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, often referred to as DIC, is a monthly benefit awarded to a surviving spouse or dependent child or parent of a service member who has died in action or died from a service-connected condition.

The surviving spouse or dependent children or parents of a veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange and developed a disease that contributed to their death may be eligible for this compensation.

Importantly, same-sex spouses of military veterans are afforded the same beneficiary rights as those of heterosexual military veterans.  Legally married military couples of any orientation can apply to collect federal benefits.

This form of compensation is entirely separate from the disability benefits the veteran may have been receiving while they were alive.  VA disability benefits that a veteran may have been receiving for their service-connected disabilities will be discontinued at the time of their passing.

Health Care Benefits

Surviving spouses and the children of veterans who passed away from an Agent Orange-related disability or medical condition may also be eligible for health care benefits under the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA).

VA Benefits for Dependents of Disabled Veterans

Honoring Our PACT Act and Benefits for Survivors

The recently passed Honoring Our PACT Act has expanded certain presumptions for veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides during their military service.  This means that veterans who may have previously been denied benefits linking their medical condition or disability to Agent Orange may now be eligible for service connection.  For veterans who have since passed away, their death could now be service connected to Agent Orange exposure, making their surviving spouse or dependents eligible for retroactive DIC benefits.

Under the Honoring Our PACT Act, survivors and dependents can file a claim for DIC benefit effective immediately.  The benefits can apply retroactively for DIC claimants.

How to File for Survivors Benefits

VA Form 21P-534EZ, or Application of DIC, Death Pension, and/or Accrued Benefits, is the official application which can be used to submit a claim for VA survivors benefits.  This form needs to be filled out and submitted to VA, along with certain evidence to prove the survivor or dependent’s relationship to the veteran.  Evidence could include marriage certificates, divorce certificates, death certificates, birth certificates, and more.

If you are the surviving spouse or dependent of a veteran who passed away from an Agent Orange exposure-linked illness or disability, getting help from an accredited representative can be extremely beneficial.

The experienced claims advocates at Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick have experience fighting DIC appeals, and we may be able to assist you.  Contact our office today for a free case evaluation.

About the Author

Bio photo of Michael Lostritto

Michael joined CCK in September of 2016 as an Attorney, was named Supervising Attorney in 2021, and now serves as a Managing Attorney. His practice focuses on the representation of disabled veterans before the Department of Veterans Affairs and the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

See more about Michael