Agent Orange Exposure in Korea
Agent Orange and other herbicides were used in the Vietnam War for two main purposes: (1) to destroy foliage in the jungle and increase visibility to prevent ambush attacks; and (2) to destroy the enemy’s crops to interrupt their food supply. While Agent Orange is most publicly associated with Vietnam, it was also stored, tested, and used in other locations as well, including in or near the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ).
Presumption of Exposure for Veterans who Served in or Near the Korean DMZ
VA affords a presumption of exposure to herbicide agents to veterans who served in specific locations during defined timeframes. The presumption of exposure is outlined in 38 CFR § 3.307 and helps replace the element of service connection that requires veterans to have an in-service event or symptom that caused their current disability. In these instances, VA counts the in-service exposure as the event. In February of 2011, VA published its final regulation regarding the presumption of herbicide exposure as it pertains to veterans who served in or near the Korean DMZ during the Vietnam War. Specifically, VA now presumes herbicide exposure for any veteran who served between April 1, 1968 and August 31, 1971, in a unit determined by VA and the Department of Defense (DoD) to have operated in an area in or near the Korean DMZ. DoD and VA have recognized the following units as eligible for the presumption of herbicide exposure:
- Combat Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division
- 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry
- 2nd Battalion, 38th Infantry
- 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry
- 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry
- 3rd Battalion, 23rd Infantry
- 2nd Battalion, 31st Infantry (service records may show assignments to either the 2nd or the 7th Infantry Division)
- 3rd Battalion, 32nd Infantry (service records may show assignments to either the 2nd or the 7th Infantry Division)
- 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry
- 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry
- 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor
- 2nd Battalion, 72nd Armor
- 1st Battalion, 12th Artillery
- 1st Battalion, 15th Artillery
- 7th Battalion, 17th Artillery
- 5th Battalion, 38th Artillery
- 6th Battalion, 37th Artillery
- Division Reaction Force
- 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry, Counter Agent Company
- 3rd Brigade of the 7th Infantry Division
- 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry
- 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry
- 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry
- 2nd Squadron, 10th Cavalry
- 2nd Battalion, 17th Infantry
- 2nd Battalion, 31st Infantry (service records may show assignment to either the 2nd or the 7th Infantry Division)
- 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry
- 3rd Battalion, 32nd Infantry (service records may show assignment to either the 2nd or the 7th Infantry Division)
- 1st Battalion, 73rd Armor
- Other Qualifying Assignments
- 2nd Military Police Company, 2nd Infantry Division
- 13th Engineer Combat Battalion
- United Nations Command Security Battalion-Joint Security Area (UNCSB-JSA)
- Crew of the USS Pueblo
Veterans who served in one of the listed units in or near the Korean DMZ during the above-mentioned timeframe are eligible for a variety of VA benefits including an Agent Orange Registry Health examination, health care, and disability compensation for conditions VA presumes to be related to Agent Orange exposure.
Reasons Why VA Denies Korea Veterans’ Agent Orange-Related Claims
VA will likely deny service connection on a presumptive basis if you do not meet the criteria outlined above. If you served along the Korean DMZ, but not within the specified timeframe, or if you served during the acknowledged timeframe, but not in one of the recognized units, you will not fall under the presumption of exposure. If this is the case, you will have to establish service connection on a direct basis. Here, exposure to Agent Orange can still serve as your in-service event, but you must prove that the exposure occurred.
Fairness for Korean DMZ Veterans Act of 2017
In July of 2017, Congressman Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) introduced H.R.3605 – Fairness for Korean DMZ Veterans Act of 2017. This Act was added in as part of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017, and proposes to extend the presumptive period for veterans who served in or near the Korean DMZ. Specifically, it recommends beginning the presumptive period on September 1, 1967, six months prior to the current April 1, 1968 date. It is estimated that this change would help between 1,000 and 1,500 Korean DMZ veterans get VA disability benefits based on Agent Orange exposure. The Act cites a declassified January 1969 document that noted the use of herbicide agents in the Korean DMZ for testing purposes that began on October 9, 1967.
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