It’s a long running battle between the Veterans Affairs Department and Vietnam veterans. Now, though, more than 2,000 veterans will receive health care and compensation for illnesses related to Agent Orange exposure from aircraft flown after the Vietnam War.
VA announced less than a week ago that it would indeed expand eligibility for benefits to members of the Air Force members who flew in C-123 aircraft after they were used in Vietnam to spray the toxic herbicide. This means healthcare and disability payments for those former service members who suffered from the myriad of illnesses credited to the toxin. It’s believed that at least 14 illnesses have traced back to Agent Orange exposure.
The VA has vehemently denied for years that Agent Orange was a factor in any illness. It’s held to its insistence of trace amounts of dioxin on internal aircraft surfaces were not “biologically available for skin absorption or inhalation because dioxin is not water- or sweat-soluble and does not give off airborne particles.” It spent millions of dollars to study the issue, in order to have a foundation from which to base its beliefs. That foundation no longer exists and what’s left are too many of our veterans who suffered with no acknowledgement or compensation.
The battle ebbed and flowed over the years. At the VA’s lowest point, it hired a consultant to state that the exposure simply did not exist. The consultant, Alan Young, went so far as to call veterans “freeloaders” who only wanted to “cash in on tax-free money for health issues that originate from their lifestyles and aging.” In one email from 2011, Young wrote, “There was no exposure to Agent Orange or the dioxin but that doesn’t stop them from concocting exposure stories hoping some congressional member will feel sorry for them.”
Making matters worse was the determination of the government to destroy questionable aircraft. Fortunately, tests were conducted on one of those aircraft before it was destroyed. It tested positive for dioxin.
Despite the findings, it would be years before the VA would even own up to the possibility, let alone take steps to right the wrongs.
But now that has happened, according to the newly published regulation. Veterans will be eligible to file claims starting Friday.
Current VA Secretary Bob McDonald said that “deserving group of Air Force veterans and reservists” will now be able to seek compensation and medical care. He concluded by saying it will pay agent orange victims because “it is the right thing to do.”
Under the new rule, flight, medical and ground maintenance crew members who served on C-123s are presumed to have been exposed and for any reservist who is ill, the exposure is presumed to have occurred while they were training, making them eligible for VA benefits including disability compensation, medical care, dependency benefits, indemnity compensation and burial.
If you’d like to learn more about qualifying for veteran’s benefits, we invite you to contact our offices today. We can help ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.