Veterans exposed to Agent Orange in US to see disability benefits under VA rule change
Stars and Stripes February 9, 2024
WASHINGTON — Thousands of aging veterans with identified illnesses who were stationed at U.S. bases where Agent Orange and other herbicides were tested, stored or used between 1940 and 1970 will become eligible for disability benefits under a proposed rule change that the Department of Veterans Affairs disclosed Friday.
The proposed rule changed announced in the Federal Register represents the first time that all former service members who trained at certain U.S. locations where the defoliant was present will be able to qualify for disability benefits, the VA said.
The U.S. military locations are in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, New York, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
The proposed rule change would grant “presumptive benefit” status to veterans who developed certain cancers, heart conditions and other illnesses after being stationed in locations where the U.S. military tested, stored or used Agent Orange and other herbicides.
“Presumptive benefit” status is a reference to eligibility based on diagnoses of illnesses — including certain forms of cancer and heart conditions — that have been linked to exposures of chemicals found in Agent Orange and other defoliants.
The proposed rule change in the Federal Register will be formally published Feb. 12, though it became available for viewing Friday. The rule is not expected to take effect for several months.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement that the rule change will allow for disability benefits to extend to more veterans.
“This proposed change would make it easier for veterans exposed to herbicides who served outside Vietnam to access the benefits they so rightly deserve,” he said. “Our goal is to provide every veteran — of every era — with the VA health care and benefits they deserve.”
Troops who served in Vietnam or in waterways throughout the country between 1962 and 1975 already are eligible for benefits related to Agent Orange exposure.
The new rule clarifies that eligibility for Vietnam War-era veterans extends to individuals who served in specified offshore waters of Vietnam during that period.
In addition to the U.S. locations, the rule change would extend benefits to qualifying veterans stationed at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick, Canada, from June 1966 to June 1967, and in Kumbla, India, from 1945 to 1946.
It also will expand the timeline of military service for troops who were exposed to herbicides during service in American Samoa, Cambodia, Guam, the Johnson Atolls, Korea, Laos and Thailand in the 1960s and 1970s.
The announcement builds upon an expansion of benefits to former service members granted through the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022, commonly known as the PACT Act.
The PACT Act sought to improve access to disability benefits for veterans who developed certain medical conditions after exposure to herbicides, radiation and burn pits during military service.