Understanding VA’s Agent Orange presumptives

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of tactical herbicides on vegetation in Vietnam and other locations in the region. Veterans who served in-country in Vietnam may have been exposed to the chemical defoliant Agent Orange, which is named for the orange band around its storage barrels. Veterans who flew or worked on C-123 aircraft or spent time in the Korean Demilitarized Zone or on Thai Air Force bases may also have been exposed.

People who have been exposed to Agent Orange are more likely than the general population to get certain illnesses. The Department of Veterans Affairs calls these illnesses “presumptives,” because they presume if a veteran who served in Vietnam, or at other potential exposure sites, contracts one of these illnesses, it was likely caused by Agent Orange exposure. It should be noted that just because a veteran was exposed to Agent Orange does not mean they will get these illnesses. Exposure only makes these illnesses more likely. Illnesses on the presumptives list range from skin conditions and nervous systems disorders to cancers and diabetes.

Veterans who were exposed and who contract one of the illnesses on the VA presumptives list are eligible to apply for monthly disability compensation. In order to receive disability compensation for an Agent Orange-related illness, a veteran must meet all of the following criteria: 1) have served in a location that the VA concedes was an exposure location; 2) have a medical diagnosis of one of the presumptive illnesses on the VA list; and 3) apply for the compensation.

In some cases, a veteran may have to provide evidence that he or she was exposed or provide medical opinions that state the illness is believed to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange.

For Vietnam veterans who do not currently have an Agent Orange-related illness, there are still some potentially valuable benefits available. There is a free Agent Orange Registry Health Exam available to eligible veterans who may have been exposed. According to the VA website, “This comprehensive health exam includes an exposure history, medical history, physical exam and any tests, if needed. A VA health professional will discuss the results face-to-face with the veteran and in a follow-up letter.” Also, all Vietnam veterans who served in country are eligible to enroll in the VA Health Care System and receive quality medical care at low to no cost, depending on the individual’s circumstances.

The Shawano County Veteran Service Office can answer questions and help veterans apply for compensation for an Agent Orange-related illness. Contact Nick Benzinger at 715-526-9183.