Agent Orange


AgentOrangeSprayMapAgent Orange was a powerful mixture of chemical defoliants used by U.S. military forces during the Vietnam War to eliminate forest cover for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops, as well as crops that might be used to feed them. U.S. aircraft were deployed to spray powerful mixtures of herbicides around roads, rivers, canals and military bases, as well as on crops that might be used to supply enemy troops. During this process, crops and water sources used by the non-combatant peasant population of South Vietnam could also be hit. Major defoliation in South Vietnam is depicted in orange on the map.

The U.S. program of defoliation, codenamed Operation Ranch Hand, sprayed more than 19 million gallons of herbicides over 4.5 million acres of land in Vietnam from 1961 to 1972. Agent Orange, which contained the chemical dioxin, was the most commonly used of the herbicide mixtures, and the most effective. It was later revealed to cause serious health issues–including tumors, birth defects, rashes, psychological symptoms and cancer–among returning U.S. servicemen and their families as well as among the Vietnamese population.

The most commonly used, and most effective, mixture of herbicides used was named for the orange stripe painted on the 55-gallon drums in which the mixture was stored. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Agent Orange contained “minute traces” of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), more commonly known as dioxin. Through studies done on laboratory animals, dioxin has been shown to be highly toxic even in minute doses; human exposure to the chemical could be associated with serious health issues such as muscular dysfunction, inflammation, birth defects, nervous system disorders and even the development of various cancers.

C123SprayingIn addition to Agent Orange related health issues for those serving in Vietnam (from 1961 to 1972), illnesses from exposure to Agent Orange has been found in Herbicide tests and storage outside Vietnam such as military bases in the U.S. and locations in other countries such as Okinawa, Japan.

Americans have also been exposed to defoliants in some areas of Thailand (February 28, 1961 and May 7, 1975) and the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas (between April 1, 1968 and August 31, 1971). Additionally, Agent Orange residue on airplanes used in Vietnam resulted in possible exposure of crew members of C-123 aircraft flown after the Vietnam War.

AgenOrangeDrums2The controversy over Agent Orange and its effects has persisted for more than four decades including debate over whether so-called "Blue Water Navy" veterans (those who served aboard deep-sea vessels during the Vietnam War) should receive the same Agent Orange-related benefits as other veterans who served on the ground or on inland waterways.


Veteran Health Issues

Questions regarding Agent Orange arose in the United States after an increasing number of returning Vietnam veterans and their families began to report a range of afflictions, including rashes and other skin irritations, miscarriages, psychological symptoms, Type-2 diabetes, birth defects in children and cancers such as Hodgkin’s disease, prostate cancer and leukemia.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Agent Orange Act, which mandated that some diseases associated with defoliants be treated as the result of wartime service and helped codify the VA’s response to veterans with conditions related to their exposure to Agent Orange.

Presumptive illnesses related to Agent Orange exposure include:

  • Al Amyloidosis: a rare disease caused when an abnormal protein, amyloid, enters tissues or organs.
  • Chronic B-cell Leokemias: a type of cancer which affects white blood cells.
  • Chloracne (or similar acneform disease): a skin condition that occurs soon after exposure to chemicals and looks like common forms of acne seen in teenagers. Under VA’s rating regulations, it must be at least 10 percent disabling within one year of exposure to herbicides.
  • Diabetes Mellitus Type 2: disease characterized by high blood sugar levels resulting from the body’s inability to respond properly to the hormone insulin.
  • Hodgkin’s Disease: a malignant lymphoma (cancer) characterized by progressive enlargement of the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen, and by progressive anemia.
  • Ischemic Heart Disease: a disease characterized by a reduced supply of blood to the heart, that leads to chest pain.
  • Multiple Myeloma: a cancer of plasma cells, a type of white blood cell in bone marrow.
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: a group of cancers that affect the lymph glands and other lymphatic tissue.
  • Parkinson’s Disease: a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects muscle movement.
  • Peripheral Neuropathy, Early-Onset: a nervous system condition that causes numbness, tingling, and motor weakness. Under VA’s rating regulations, it must be at least 10 percent disabling within one year of herbicide exposure.
  • Porphyria Cutanea Tarda: a disorder characterized by liver dysfunction and by thinning and blistering of the skin in sun-exposed areas. Under VA’s rating regulations, it must be at least 10 percent disabling within one year of exposure to herbicides.
  • Prostate Cancer: cancer of the prostate; one of the most common cancers among men.
  • Respiratory Cancers (including lung cancer): cancers of the lung, larynx, trachea, and bronchus.
  • Soft Tissue Sarcomas (other than osteosarcoma, Chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma): a group of different types of cancers in body tissues such as muscle, fat, blood and lymph vessels, and connective tissues.

Agent Orange VA Benefits

Veterans who were exposed to·Agent Orange during military service may be eligible for a variety of VA benefits, including disability compensation for diseases associated with exposure. The benefits include an Agent Orange Registry, health exam and clinical treatment at VA's War Related Illness and Injury Study Center. The VA wants all veterans exposed to Agent Orange to apply for benefits. Dependents and survivors·also may be eligible for benefits.

Disability Compensation

Veterans who want to be considered for disability compensation for health problems related to Agent Orange exposure must·file a claim. During the claims process, the VA will check military records to confirm exposure to Agent Orange or qualifying military service. If necessary, the VA will set up a separate exam for compensation.

Agent Orange Registry Health Exam

The VA's Agent Orange Registry health exam alerts Veterans to possible long-term health problems that may be related to Agent Orange exposure during their military service. The registry data helps the VA understand and respond to these health problems more effectively. The exam is free to eligible Veterans and enrollment in VA health care is not necessary. Although the findings of your exam may be used to inform of subsequent care, they may not be used when applying for compensation as a separate exam is required.

Agent Orange Effects on Children of Veterans

Children who have spina bifida or certain other birth defects and are biological children of Veterans with qualifying service in Vietnam or Korea may be eligible for a range of VA benefits, including:

  • Compensation, a monthly monetary allowance based on the child's degree of disability.
  • Health care benefits
  • Vocational training, which provides up to 24 months of full-time training, rehabilitation and job assistance with the possibility of an extension up to 24 months if needed to achieve the employment goal. The child may not begin vocational training before his or her 18th birthday or the date he or she completes secondary schooling, whichever comes first.


For more information:
Contact the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA)
by calling 800-827-1000
or visit their website:




Copyright © 2016 — Darwin J. Thomas Memorial Chapter 201, VVA Inc.

Created 15 Feb 2016; Revised 15 Feb 2016
Tad D. Campbell

• • •


P.O. Box 26203
San Jose, California 95159