Five decades after the Vietnam War began—and four decades after it ended— veterans exposed to the chemical brew dubbed Agent Orange are still fighting for compensation and benefits for themselves and their children.
And it turns out, not all veterans exposed to Agent Orange are being treated the same.
Agent Orange is the name given to a mixture of toxins used during the Vietnam War to remove leaves from trees and bushes, leaving the enemy more exposed. (It got its name from the orange stripes on barrels containing it.)
All told, about 9 million military personnel served on active duty during the Vietnam era, but most were not stationed in the country. Of those, some 2.6 million were potentially exposed to Agent Orange, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates.
The VA began receiving claims related to Agent Orange exposure in 1977, according to a November 2014 report from the Congressional Research Service. In 1991, Congress passed the Agent Orange Act, which said that certain diseases tied to chemical exposure would be presumed to be related to a vet's military service and would make the vet eligible for benefits. The list has grown over time and now includes various cancers, diabetes, Parkinson's Disease, peripheral neuropathy and heart disease, among others.
To get these benefits, though, veterans "must have actually set foot on Vietnamese soil or served on a craft in its rivers (also known as 'brown water veterans')," the Congressional Research Service wrote. Those who instead spent time on deep-water Navy ships (called "Blue Water Navy" veterans) do not qualify unless they can show that they spent time on Vietnam land or rivers, the report said.
Below are various groups who receive Agent Orange benefits or are seeking them.
Those Who Served in Vietnam
Since 2002, more than 650,000 veterans have been granted benefits because of their Agent Orange exposure, the VA estimates. (The department did not keep data prior to then.)
According to the VA's annual benefits report, it spent nearly $1.3 billion on compensation for Vietnam era veterans in fiscal year 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. That is about one-third of the $3.7 billion in compensation provided that year for all veterans. That figure includes monthly cash compensation payments, but not health care services.
The VA's website says that: "For the purposes of VA compensation benefits, Veterans who served anywhere in Vietnam between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975 are presumed to have been exposed to herbicides, as specified in the Agent Orange Act of 1991. These Veterans do not need to show that they were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides in order to get disability compensation for diseases related to Agent Orange exposure."
Veterans can obtain information on the VA's website, where they can also file claims for benefits.