Agent Orange refers to a blend of herbicides used by the U.S. military to remove tree and foliage cover in the jungles of Vietnam and around the Korean demilitarized zone. Agent Orange is known to cause a variety of cancers and other health problems. Fortunately, the VA has a “presumptive policy” for veterans exposed to Agent Orange and related disabilities. This presumptive policy means that, if you meet certain criteria, you do not need to provide the usual factual evidence to prove that your disability was incurred in or due to military service. Instead, the VA presumes that you were exposed to Agent Orange during service and that your disability resulted from (or was aggravated by) that Agent Orange exposure.
For Vietnam veterans, VA’s presumptive policy applies if you 1) served with “boots on the ground” in Vietnam during the period from January 9, 1962 to May 7, 1975, and 2) have a disability that the VA has recognized as associated with Agent Orange exposure – a “presumptive disease.”
What qualifies as “boots on the ground”?
“Boots on the ground” applies to veterans who were stationed on the continental land mass of Vietnam. Simply stated, “boots on the ground” requires that you show reasonable evidence that you set foot on Vietnamese soil or navigated inland waterways. You do not need to have been in Vietnam for a certain length of time or for a certain purpose. But there are other situations that the VA still considers “boots on the ground.” These situations may require some additional evidence, but still fall under the VA’s presumptive policy for Agent Orange exposure.
Brown Water and Blue Water Veterans
If you are a “Brown Water” Veteran – a veteran who served on a craft operating on the rivers and inland waterways in Vietnam – you are presumed to have been exposed to herbicides.
For most “Blue Water” Veterans – those who served in open sea ships off the coast of Vietnam – Agent Orange exposure is not presumed. However, Blue Water Veterans with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma may be granted service connection without showing inland waterway service or that they set foot in Vietnam.
Additionally, if you were on a ship that docked to shore in Vietnam, and you went onshore for any reason – even for a short period of time – exposure is presumed. You will need to provide a personal statement that you went onshore and a record of where your ship was docked. Similarly, if you served on a ship anchored in a Vietnamese harbor (offshore), and your ship sent service members to shore for any reason, exposure is presumed. You will need to provide a record of the trip to shore and a personal statement that you were on that trip. If you were stationed on a ship that launched aircrafts that landed on the ground for any reason (e.g. search and rescue missions, mail or supply runs, to repair aircraft), then exposure is presumed.
If you set foot in Vietnam during a flight stopover (e.g. for repairs of your aircraft, to deliver or pick up supplies, etc.), you may be presumed exposed.
Which disabilities are associated with Agent Orange exposure?
The following disabilities have been identified by the VA as “presumptive diseases” related to in-service Agent Orange exposure. You need a current diagnosis of one of these disabilities in order to qualify for the presumptive policy.
- AL Amyloidosis
- Chronic B-cell Leukemias
- Chloracne (or similar acneform disease) – Note: Under VA’s rating regulations, your chloracne must be at least 10 percent disabling within one year of exposure to herbicides in order to be considered presumptive.
- Diabetes Mellitus Type 2
- Hodgkin’s Disease
- Ischemic Heart Disease (includes Coronary Artery Disease, stable and unstable angina, myocardial infarction, and sudden cardiac death)
- Multiple Myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Peripheral Neuropathy, Early-Onset (Note: Under VA’s rating regulations, it must be at least 10 percent disabling within one year of herbicide exposure.)
- Porphyria Cutanea Tarda (Note: Under VA’s rating regulations, it must be at least 10 percent disabling within one year of herbicide exposure in order to be considered presumptive.)
- Prostate Cancer
- Respiratory Cancers(includes lung cancer)
- Soft Tissue Sarcomas(other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma)
If further disease or disability results from one of the above listed presumptive diseases, you can file a claim for a secondary condition.
What if I did not serve in Vietnam but was exposed to Agent Orange?
If you served in or near the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) anytime between April 1, 1968 and August 31, 1971, you are eligible for the presumptive policy for Agent Orange exposure, meaning you do not have to prove that you were exposed to Agent Orange.
If you did not serve in Vietnam or Korea, you can still file a claim for disability due to herbicide exposure. However, you will have to prove that you were exposed to Agent Orange during your service duties. Your disability will be presumed to be associated with Agent Orange if it is on the VA’s list of presumptive diseases (see above). Cases such as this include:
- Veterans who served on or near the perimeters of military bases in Thailand during the Vietnam Era.
- Veterans who served where herbicides were tested and stored outside of Vietnam.
- Veterans who were crew members on C-123 planes flown after the Vietnam War.
- Veterans associated with Department of Defense (DoD) projects to test, dispose of, or store herbicides in the U.S.
What if I had “boots on the ground” but my exposure-related disability is not on the VA’s list?
If your disability is not on the above list, you can still file a claim if you believe it is related to Agent Orange exposure. You will not have to prove that you were exposed to Agent Orange, but you will have to provide compelling evidence that your condition was caused or aggravated by that exposure (i.e. a “medical nexus” or link). This evidence usually takes the form of a medical opinion.