From January 9, 1962 to May 7, 1975 the United States sprayed tactical herbicides in Vietnam for the purpose of defoliating the overgrown terrain. It not only allowed for improved combat visibility but assisted the U.S. forces on the ground with such activities as clearance of transportation routes, boundaries of bases and to reveal enemy hiding places such as weapon storage and base camps.
The U.S. military purchased these herbicides from private companies and had begun testing their effects as early as 1945. These tactical herbicides were named Herbicide Purple, Herbicide Pink, Herbicide Green, Herbicide Blue, Herbicide White and Herbicide Orange. The first herbicide used in Vietnam was Herbicide Pink on December 29, 1961. The most widely used and best known herbicide was Orange. The term Agent Orange was used by the media to describe the herbicides that contained harmful compounds (Orange, Green, Pink and Purple) known as tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD).
According to the Department of Defense, after 1966, all of these herbicides were shipped to Vietnam in fifty-five gallon drums from Mobile, Alabama. It is estimated that 356,615 fifty-five gallon drums of herbicides were used in Vietnam. They arrived in Mobile via train car from the manufactures, unloaded and reloaded onto cargo transportation ships and delivered to Saigon or Da Nang. The herbicides were then distributed to various supply points in Vietnam. They were most commonly sprayed from C-123 aircraft, often flying as low as tree top-level, released from an aerial spray apparatus fixed to the rear of the plane. This has been described by Vietnam veterans and Vietnam citizens as a mist or fog that was falling from the sky. Within a week of the spraying the dense foliage of the forests would disappear and the trees would simply fall over. To date a large portion of the dense forests have not returned, instead grasslands have overtaken the once dense forests.
The use of these herbicides during the Vietnam War may have assisted the United States forces during the war but it has affected the health of millions of veterans. Congress took action after several years of debate and passed the Agent Orange Act of 1991 which established the procedures that the VA must follow to determine presumptive conditions for veterans exposed to Agent Orange. The VA is required by this Act to contract the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine to conduct reviews of current literature every two years in connection with the effects of herbicides. The most recent issue entitled Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2010 was issued in September of 2011.
Through the research of the Institute of Medicine the VA has acknowledged that exposure to these herbicides or dioxins, is related to several diseases. If a Vietnam Veteran can prove that he put his foot on the ground in Vietnam during this period he is presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. The VA has developed fourteen presumptive diseases that can be directly related to Agent Orange Exposure to include:
- Peripheral Neuropathy-must be at least 10% disabling within 1 year of exposure
- AL Amyloidosis
- Chloracne-must be at least 10% disabling with 1 year of exposure
- Chronic B-Cell Leukemia
- Diabetes Mellitus Type II
- Hodgkin’s Disease
- Ischemic Heart Disease
- Multiple Myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s Disease
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Porphyria Cutanea Tarda- must be at least 10% disabling with 1 year of exposure
- Prostate Cancer
- Respiratory Cancers
- Soft Tissue Sarcoma
These regulations are not only currently in effect for Vietnam veterans but also for veterans who served in other areas that herbicides, see Exposure to Agent Orange by Location, were used such as along the Korean Demilitarized Zone from April 1, 1968 to August 31, 1971, and Thailand veterans who served near the base perimeters from February 28, 1961 to May 7, 1975. In addition veterans who have served in the Philippines, Okinawa and other areas have received service connection for Agent Orange exposure for one of the presumptive diseases above. If the VA determines that the veteran’s service does not entitle him to presumptive exposure it is up to the veteran to prove that they were exposed to these herbicides either by proving they were on the ground in Vietnam, on the rivers of Vietnam (brown water veterans), along the DMZ in Korea, base perimeters in Thailand or by proving direct exposure at another location.
If a veteran has been denied service connection for one of the qualifying presumptive conditions and believes that they were exposed to Agent Orange, or any of the other herbicides discussed above, please seek the assistance of an accredited veterans attorney to ensure that your claim is being handled and developed properly.