Navy Vets Battling Effects of Agent Orange Exposure

Last month, US Navy veterans held rallies in several US cities to garner support for a new veterans’ healthcare law. The group, which calls itself the Blue Water Navy, is composed of about 90,000 living Navy veterans who served in the Vietnam War and are suffering physical health problems as a result of Agent Orange exposure during their service.

Agent Orange and the Vietnam War

Soldiers, sailors, and airmen alike suffered the effects of the US Government’s use of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War, used widely from 1961-1971. It was typically sprayed from the air onto heavily forested jungle regions to destroy foliage in an effort to curb guerrilla warfare.

An estimated 20 million US gallons (75.7 liters) of aerial defoliants (plant-killing chemicals) were used during the war. Although Agent Orange could clear out acres of vegetation, soldiers were told it wasn’t harmful to humans.

Toxic Dioxin Could Have Poisoned Vietnam Vets

Only after US involvement in Vietnam ended did the US military reveal that Agent Orange had been contaminated with an extremely toxic dioxin compound called Tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD). Dioxins like TCDD can cause a host of medical problems for humans and animals, including cancer.

Since the war ended, Vietnam veterans have fought to get Agent Orange recognized as a contributor to various health issues. Worldwide health agencies have also weighed in on how Agent Orange Exposure could affect veterans’ health.

  • World Health Organization (WHO) – Calls dioxins “highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones, and also cause cancer.” However, WHO says links between TCDD and cancer or diabetes as “still being investigated.”
  • Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies – Claims there’s sufficient evidence of an association between Agent Orange exposure and soft tissue sarcoma, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Hodgkin disease, and other leukemias.
  • National Toxicology Program (NTP) – The NTP hasn’t specifically pointed to Agent Orange as a health risk, but it does list TCDD as “known to be a human carcinogen.” There are also some studies which suggest a possible, if not definitive, link to other kinds of illnesses like peripheral neuropathy, Parkinson’s, hypertension, stroke, ischemic heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

VA Denies Sailors Medical Treatment for Agent Orange Exposure

Although the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) qualifies a host of illnesses and disabilities as eligible for healthcare treatments as a result of Agent Orange exposure, some sailors who served in Vietnam don’t have access to them.

The Blue Water Navy served in Vietnam aboard Navy ships, supporting the ground and air troops from the sea – including handling of herbicides as well as bathing in and drinking sea water that had been reclaimed from areas with Agent Orange exposure. However, the VA will only cover non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for these servicemen and women.

As its reason for denying care for Blue Water Navy personnel, the VA cites a 2011 study called Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans and Agent Orange Exposure which found that “there was not enough information for the HMD to determine whether Blue Water Navy personnel were or were not exposed to Agent Orange.”

Blue Water Navy Pushes for Agent Orange Legislation

The Blue Water Navy group disagrees with the VA’s assessment – and they’re trying to get legislation passed which will allow them to get the same treatments available to other vets who were harmed by Agent Orange. These veteran seamen and women held rallies in support of new legislation in Houston, TX, Eureka, CA, Cumberland, MD, Newington, CT, and Spokane, WA, in support of Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers’s legislation.

While this story about Vietnam veterans and Agent Orange exposure is sad, it’s not the only story of its kind. Many people fall victim to toxic exposure, including residential, agricultural, and occupational sources. If you or a loved one has been the victim of toxic exposure, you could be entitled to compensation for medical costs, lost wages, and more. Contact our toxic tort lawyers to learn more.