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Vietnam era veterans denied disability for Agent Orange exposure

NAELA National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Inc. MEMBER

New Jersey veterans of the Vietnam War were hurt terribly by casual exposure to the deadly herbicide Agent Orange, manufactured by the Monsanto Corporation and dispersed by aircraft over forested areas that were believed to contain enemy combatants. Although the system was never particularly effective and was always troubled by ethical quandaries, it seems that Agent Orange was also used in other locations outside of Vietnam.

For example, large numbers of eyewitnesses have come forward to say that Agent Orange was routinely used on American army bases in Guam. The chemical was not used offensively, but as a normal defoliant to clear runways and other areas. Veterans who worked on the base at the time claim that they sprayed thousands of gallons of Agent Orange, and government testing confirms the presence of the chemical at the site. However, the Department of Defense maintains that Agent Orange was never used anywhere besides Vietnam, and so it is therefore not responsible for any lingering effects from its presence in Guam. It is in this capacity that they have denied service-related disability benefits to veterans from Guam who claim to have been incapacitated by the deadly toxin.

Hundreds of veterans who had been based in Guam and elsewhere have filed for benefits, claiming Agent Orange exposure as the cause of their numerous health problems. With one or two notable exceptions, they have all been denied. The effects of Agent Orange manifest after a substantial time, so many veterans did not file until after critical deadlines and time limits had passed.

The few individuals who have won recognition and disability benefits in this circumstance did so by providing their detailed medical history all the way back to the Vietnam War. However, the preponderance of the cases may lead the DOD to revise their position at some point in the future. The services of a lawyer may be helpful for those who have suffered injuries as a result of being exposed to toxic chemicals during their military service.

Source: Daily Beast, "Were Vets Who Served in Guam Exposed to Agent Orange and Denied Benefits?", Diane Dimond, September 25, 2013

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