By: Bart Stichman, Executive Director, National Veterans Legal Services Program
Who are the people unaware of their entitlement to this money? Tens of thousands of surviving spouses of veterans who served in Vietnam and who are now deceased. The reason these survivors now qualify for these benefits relates to Agent Orange, the toxic herbicide used by the U.S. Government more than four decades ago during the Vietnam War to clear vegetation in areas where enemy troops were hiding. 2.7 million veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975. The overwhelming majority of them are men, and many of them were exposed to this toxic herbicide.
Until the 1990s, the VA took the position that the only adverse health effect of exposure to Agent Orange was chloracne, a skin condition. In 1991, Congress required the VA to contract with an independent agency, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), to review the emerging scientific studies on the adverse health effects of exposure to this herbicide and to prepare a report for the VA every two years with its conclusions.