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April 18, 2023

The Toxic Truth: The Effects of Agent Orange Exposure (2023 Veteran’s Guide)

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Understanding the effects of Agent Orange is crucial for you and others who served in the Vietnam era. That’s why we’ve created this comprehensive guide just for you. Our aim is to help you become informed about the health conditions linked to Agent Orange exposure and the resources available to support you.

In this guide, we’ll explore the history of Agent Orange, its symptoms, and the health issues it may cause. Let’s cover what you need to know to address any health issues related to the effects of Agent Orange exposure.

EFFECTS OF AGENT ORANGE

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History of Agent Orange Exposure

Agent Orange was a herbicide used during the Vietnam War, primarily between 1962 and 1971. 

The U.S. Air Force sprayed nearly 19 million gallons of herbicides in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia as part of a military project called Operation Ranch Hand. At least 11 million gallons of that total were Agent Orange. American forces used more than 20 million gallons of herbicides during those years.

The name “Agent Orange” comes from the orange stripe on the herbicide barrels. It was a mixture of two chemicals, 2,4-D, and 2,4,5-T, which produced a highly toxic byproduct called dioxin. Dioxin is the primary culprit behind the harmful effects of Agent Orange exposure.

After the war, it became apparent that Agent Orange exposure had long-term effects on the health of many veterans. Through the recent 2022 release of the PACT Act, the VA now officially recognizes 42 different conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure. It’s crucial to be aware of these connections so that you can take care of your health and get the support you deserve.

How Veterans Were Exposed to Agent Orange

It’s important to note that exposure to Agent Orange wasn’t limited to Vietnam.

If you served in Vietnam, there are different ways you might have been exposed to Agent Orange:

  1. On land in Vietnam or on a ship traveling on Vietnam’s inland waterways
  2. On a ship within 12 nautical miles off the coast of Vietnam and Cambodia between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975. This is sometimes referred to as the “Blue Water Navy” exposure

Additionally, exposure to Agent Orange may have occurred in other situations, such as:

  1. Crew members of C-123 planes that were used during and after the Vietnam War. These planes might have had herbicide residue on them
  2. Serving near the demilitarized zone in Korea between September 1, 1967, and August 31, 1971
  3. Being stationed on any U.S. or Royal Thai military base in Thailand between January 9, 1962, and June 30, 1976

Finally, some veterans might have been exposed to Agent Orange during tests and storage at military bases in the United States and other countries, including locations added by the PACT Act.

SIDE EFFECTS OF AGENT ORANGE

What does agent orange do to the body?

Agent Orange can significantly impact the human body due to the presence of dioxin, a highly toxic byproduct. Understanding the effects of Agent Orange is essential for taking care of your health. Let’s break down the various health conditions related to Agent Orange exposure and explore how the herbicide affects your body.

What are the long-term effects of Agent Orange?

Many of the effects of Agent Orange can take a long time to show up, sometimes even decades after exposure. 

Dioxin is lipophilic, which means it dissolves in fats and oils. As a result, when dioxin enters your body, it tends to accumulate in fatty tissues instead of being excreted. This makes it difficult for your body to get rid of dioxin, leading to long-term accumulation and increased exposure to its harmful effects.

Let’s break down some of the long-term health issues you may be facing. 

Effects of Agent Orange Exposure

Cancer – Agent Orange exposure has been linked to several types of cancer. The dioxin in Agent Orange can cause DNA damage, leading to uncontrolled cell growth and the formation of cancerous tumors. Here are some cancers associated with Agent Orange exposure:

  • Soft tissue sarcoma
  • Hodgkin’s disease
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Chronic B-cell leukemias
  • Prostate cancer
  • Respiratory cancers (lung, bronchus, larynx, trachea)
  • Multiple myeloma

Neurological Disorders – Dioxin can affect the nervous system, disrupting the normal functioning of neurons and leading to various neurological disorders. Some neurological issues related to Agent Orange exposure include:

  • Peripheral neuropathy – Damaged nerves can cause numbness, tingling, and pain in the extremities.
  • Parkinson’s disease – Exposure to toxic chemicals like dioxin can contribute to the development of this progressive nervous system disorder.
  • Multiple sclerosis – Some research suggests that environmental factors, including exposure to toxins like dioxin, might increase the risk of developing this autoimmune disease.

Respiratory Problems –  Breathing in Agent Orange can harm your lungs and respiratory system, leading to long-lasting respiratory issues including:

  • Chronic bronchitis – Persistent inflammation of your airways, causing a persistent cough, mucus production, and breathing difficulties. Chronic bronchitis can reduce your quality of life and make daily activities more challenging.
  • Asthma –  Exposure to Agent Orange may trigger or worsen asthma, a chronic lung disease characterized by narrowed airways, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. Asthma can vary in severity, and in some cases, it can lead to life-threatening asthma attacks.
  • Emphysema – This progressive lung disease damages the air sacs in your lungs, making it harder for you to breathe and get enough oxygen. Emphysema can be debilitating and may severely limit your ability to participate in daily activities, work, or exercise.

Skin Conditions – Agent Orange can cause various skin conditions due to its toxic nature. Dioxin affects the skin by damaging cells, causing inflammation, and disrupting normal skin functions. Skin conditions related to Agent Orange exposure include:

  • Chloracne – A severe form of acne that can be caused by exposure to dioxin. It can cause painful, deep cysts and can leave lasting scars on the skin.
  • Skin rashes – Dioxin exposure can cause skin inflammation and irritation, leading to red, itchy, and uncomfortable rashes that may persist and affect your daily life.
  • Skin cancers – Extended exposure to Agent Orange may increase the risk of developing skin cancers, including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma.

Cardiovascular Issues – Dioxin in Agent Orange can contribute to cardiovascular issues by causing inflammation, affecting blood vessels, and disrupting the normal functioning of the heart. Cardiovascular problems related to Agent Orange exposure include:

  • Ischemic heart disease – Reduced blood flow to the heart muscle can cause chest pain and increase the risk of heart attacks.
  • Hypertension – Elevated blood pressure can put extra strain on your heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Peripheral arterial disease – Narrowing of the arteries in the legs can cause leg pain, cramping, and poor circulation, affecting mobility and quality of life.

Gastrointestinal Disorders – The toxic properties of dioxin can damage the gastrointestinal system, leading to various digestive issues. Gastrointestinal disorders associated with Agent Orange exposure are:

  • Liver dysfunction – Dioxin can cause liver damage, leading to impaired liver function.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – Chronic exposure to toxins like dioxin may contribute to the development of GERD causing heartburn, chest pain, and difficulty swallowing.
  • Ulcers – Dioxin can cause inflammation and damage to the stomach lining, leading to ulcers.

Reproductive Health Issues – Agent Orange exposure can have harmful effects on reproductive health, affecting fertility and causing birth defects in the children of exposed veterans. Reproductive health issues related to Agent Orange exposure include:

Psychological Effects – The psychological effects of Agent Orange exposure might be indirect, stemming from the physical health issues, chronic pain, and disability that many veterans experience as a result of their exposure. These physical challenges can contribute to feelings of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

AGENT ORANGE BABIES

Agent Orange Presumptive Conditions

If you’re experiencing one of these 42 conditions and were exposed to Agent Orange during your military service, the VA will automatically assume your exposure caused these conditions, making it easier for you to get a VA disability rating. These include:

  • AL Amyloidosis 
  • Chronic B-cell Leukemias
  • Chloracne (or other similar acneform disease)
  • Type 2 Diabetes 
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Ischemic Heart Disease
  • Multiple Myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma 
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Acute and Subacute Peripheral Neuropathy 
  • 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 
  • Respiratory Cancers (includes 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.

You can read the entire list of conditions in our post on the official Agent Orange presumptive list

Here’s the VA list of presumptive Agent Orange birth defects for children of women Vietnam veterans:

  • Achondroplasia
  • Cleft lip and cleft palate
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Congenital talipes equinovarus (clubfoot)
  • Esophageal and intestinal atresia
  • Hallerman-Streiff syndrome
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Hirschprung’s disease (congenital megacolon)
  • Hydrocephalus due to aqueductal stenosis
  • Hypospadias
  • Imperforate anus
  • Neural tube defects
  • Poland syndrome
  • Pyloric stenosis
  • Syndactyly (fused digits)
  • Tracheoesophageal fistula
  • Undescended testicle
  • Williams syndrome
WHAT DOES AGENT ORANGE DO TO THE BODY 1

Filing a VA Claim for Agent Orange Exposure

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you navigate the VA claim process for Agent Orange exposure. 

Step 1: Check if You Qualify for Presumptive Service Connection

Is your current condition on the VA presumptive list for Agent Orange listed above?  If it is, the VA will presume a service connection, meaning you won’t have to prove a direct link between your service and your condition when filing your claim. You’ll still need to show that you have a current diagnosis and provide evidence of the in-service event or injury (i.e., the actual exposure to Agent Orange). Many times you can prove exposure through military service records, showing you were in a certain location at a certain time. 

Step 2: Gather Evidence

If your Agent Orange exposure condition isn’t on the presumptive list, don’t worry, you can still apply for VA disability based on Agent Orange exposure. You’ll just need to collect some extra evidence to establish a service connection for your disability. Make sure you have:

  • Evidence of a diagnosed condition considered disabling by the VA
  • Evidence of exposure to Agent Orange during your service
  • Evidence of a link between Agent Orange exposure and the medical condition you’re claiming

If your condition is on the presumptive list, you’ll still need medical evidence of your current disability and military records proving exposure.

Step 3: File Your Agent Orange Claim

With all your evidence in hand, it’s time to file your claim. You can submit your claim online through the VA website, by mail, or in person at a VA regional office. Be sure to include all the necessary documentation to support your claim in order to file a Fully Developed Claim and reduce the amount of time you’re waiting on a decision from the VA. 

Step 4: Take Action if You Aren’t Happy with the Result

If you’re a veteran dealing with the effects of Agent Orange and you’re not satisfied with the outcome of your VA claim, don’t lose hope. You have three options to consider:

  1. Submit Higher Level Review
  2. Submit Supplemental Claim
  3. File an Appeal

Get the Support you Deserve for Dealing with the Effects of Agent Orange

Remember, you’re not alone in this journey. Many resources are available to help you fight for the benefits you deserve, including VA Claims Insider. Don’t give up, and keep pushing forward until you receive the support and recognition you’ve earned for your service.

VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL

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Our process takes the guesswork out of filing a VA disability claim and supports you every step of the way in building a fully-developed claim (FDC)—so you can increase your rating FAST! If you’ve filed your VA disability claim and have been denied or have received a low rating—or you’re unsure how to get started—reach out to us! Take advantage of a FREE VA Claim Discovery Call. Learn what you’ve been missing—so you can FINALLY get the disability rating and compensation YOU DESERVE!

Trisha Penrod Bio Photo

Trisha Penrod

Trisha Penrod is a former active-duty Air Force officer. As an Intelligence Officer, she led teams of analysts to apply advanced analytic skills to identify, assess, and report potential threats to U.S. forces.

Trisha attended the U.S. Air Force Academy and holds an MBA from Webster University.  After receiving an honorable discharge in 2018, Trisha worked as a growth marketer and utilizes her analytic skills to help others accomplish their business goals.

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