Ending years of wait, the government has agreed to provide disability benefits to as many as 2,100 Air Force reservists and active-duty forces exposed to Agent Orange residue on airplanes used in the Vietnam War. The new federal rule, approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget, takes effect today. It adds to an Agent Orange-related caseload that already makes up a sixth of disability checks issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The expected cost over 10 years is $47.5 million, with separate health-care coverage adding to the price tag. "Opening up eligibility for this deserving group of Air Force veterans and reservists is the right thing to do," VA Secretary Bob McDonald says.
The new federal rule covers an expanded group of military personnel who flew or worked on Fairchild C-123 aircraft in the US from 1969 to 1986 and were believed to have been exposed to Agent Orange residue. The planes had been used to spray millions of gallons of the chemical herbicide during the Vietnam War. Those affected individuals under the new rule will now be eligible to receive disability aid, including survivor benefits and medical care. The veterans must show they worked on a contaminated plane and later developed any of 14 medical conditions—including prostate cancer, diabetes, and leukemia—that the VA has determined to be connected to Agent Orange. (In Vietnam, the government has been using a detox program developed by the Church of Scientology.)