Like millions of others, Floyd Sullivan was exposed to Agent Orange, a chemical the U.S. sprayed all over Vietnam in the 60s and 70s. The American military sprayed more than 11 million gallons of the tactical herbicide to help clear leaves and vegetation for military operations during the Vietnam War.
Sullivan, an Air Force veteran, worked in the mailroom during the one year he was stationed in Vietnam. It was a job that required him to frequently fly in military aircraft that were often covered with Agent Orange herbicide.
“You can’t get no closer than that,” Sullivan said.
It wasn’t until he returned to the U.S. that he began hearing about people dying from Agent Orange exposure and he knew it was serious.
The powerful herbicide contained dioxin, a toxic chemical that causes serious health problems including cancer, reproductive and developmental issues, rashes and neurological problems. Thousands of veterans died from Agent Orange-related health issues and, in 1979, a lawsuit was filed for the more than two million veterans who were exposed to the chemical. The lawsuit ended in a settlement several years later with dozens of chemical manufacturing companies, including Monsanto and Dow Chemical, agreeing to pay nearly $200 million.
Congress then passed the Agent Orange Act of 1991, making veterans with certain health conditions in connection with Agent Orange eligible for benefits. But sadly, too many Vietnam veterans haven’t claimed their benefits - many because they’re not aware of the benefits, some because they don’t realize they qualify and others because they’re deceased. When a veteran dies, his or her spouse is eligible to receive their benefits, another bit of information that is far too often not known.
“A lot of these diseases are equated to age, so a lot of veterans are just thinking that it’s part of their natural aging process,” said Archie Welch, an accredited veteran service officer who is authorized to help veterans navigate the Department of Veterans Affairs’ claim process.
After serving a total of almost 35 years in the Air Force, Sullivan is one of thousands of veterans working to receive Agent Orange benefits.
Funds are distributed depending on the severity of a veteran’s illness. For instance, someone with a controlled case of diabetes might receive no money, but a veteran who loses mobility due to nerve damage caused by diabetes could get about $3,000 per month, which is at the top of the VA’s range for disability payments. Benefits also are calculated according to a veteran’s dependents.
Agent Orange Registry
Even if a Vietnam veteran doesn’t currently have any of the diseases identified as being associated with Agent Orange, they are encouraged to get registered in the Agent Orange Registry through a VA hospital. The registry helps the VA understand and respond to health problems related to Agent Orange more effectively.
Who Qualifies for Agent Orange benefits?
Veterans must have a qualifying medical diagnosis and proof of service in Vietnam.
Veterans without a qualifying medical diagnosis must show a connection between the disease and herbicide exposure during military service to receive disability compensation.
Qualifying Vietnam Service
Veterans must have met the following Vietnam service criteria:
Military duty or visitation within Vietnam including its inland waterways between Jan. 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975.
Veterans who served in a unit that operated in the Korean Demilitarized Zone between April 1, 1968 and Aug. 31, 1971.
Vietnam-era veterans whose service involved duty on or near the perimeters of certain military bases in Thailand between Feb. 28, 1961 and May 7, 1975.
Veterans who served, operated or maintained C-123 aircraft from 1969 to 1986
Blue Water Navy Veterans who served aboard ships in the open waters off the coast of Vietnam during the Vietnam War are now presumed to be exposed to Agent Orange. Due to this recent ruling, these veterans - if previously denied benefits for an Agent Orange-related condition, can file a new claim.
Other veterans whose duty outside of Vietnam involved direct handling of Agent Orange.
Qualifying Medical Conditions
• Chloracne or other acne-form disease consistent with chloracne
• Soft-tissue sarcoma
• Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
• Porphyria cutanea tarda
• Hodgkin’s disease
• Respiratory cancers (lung, bronchus, larynx, or trachea)
• Multiple myeloma
• Prostate cancer
• Acute and subacute peripheral neuropathy (early onset peripheral neuropathy)
• Type 2 diabetes mellitus
• Chronic lymphocytic leukemia
• AL amyloidosis
• Ischemic heart disease
• Chronic B-cell leukemia
• Parkinson’s disease
• Expanded this year to include: Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism and Parkinsonism
Even if veterans suffer from an ailment not on the VA list, they should consider applying for disability benefits if they believe it is the result of Agent Orange exposure.
Filing a Claim
To file a claim online for disability compensation, use eBenefits: www.ebenefits.va.gov.
Compensation for Surviving Family
Children of veterans who have birth defects or spina bifida may be eligible for compensation through VA-like health care or monthly payments depending on disability level. The claim will need a document showing the biological relationship between the child and the veteran parent and service records that prove the veteran served in Vietnam, Thailand or the DMZ sometime between 1962 and 1986.
The VA also offers a wide range of benefits like compensation and health care to surviving spouses, dependent children and dependent parents of veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and died as the result of diseases related to Agent Orange exposure.
Find out if you’re eligible for spousal or depend support here:
Help With the Process
VA says it is vital for veterans and survivors to use an accredited veteran service officer when filing claims. Veterans can find guides on the VA website to help navigate the process.
Find other veteran service officers here: www.va.gov/vso/VSO-Directory.pdf.
Archie Welch, a local Kansas City veteran service provider, has helped several families get compensated through VA. Contact him by phone: (816) 569-5666 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Burn Pit Exposure Turning into the New Agent Orange
Hundreds of thousands of combat veterans who lived and slept next to massive pits of garbage while deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan say the constant smoke from the trash being burned has impacted their long-term health. The vets, their doctors, advocates, and some federal lawmakers are now fighting to get the Veterans Administration (VA) to cover the care.
Joe Chenelly, a Marine who was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11, said any and all trash created was burned.
"Some of the burn pits are larger than a football field," Chenelly said. Anything and everything that needed to be disposed of was thrown in there from tires to medical waste."
Electronics, human waste, even vehicles, went into the burn pits, too, and then it was all lit on fire, often with jet fuel.
Since returning home, hundreds of thousands of veterans have gotten sick. They, and many of their doctors, believe it’s from the toxic fumes.
The VA admits there are toxins in the smoke but maintains that most of the health effects are temporary. A spokesman for the VA points to a study, recently published by the National Academy of Sciences that found “insufficient evidence” to link the burn pits to cancer or other illnesses. Veterans outreach groups say they have a sense of déjà vu.