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Vietnam Vets need to know: Agent Orange effects can come 30 years or more after exposure; benefits available

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Photo caption: Vietnam Defoliation Mission. A UH-1D helicopter from the 336th Aviation Company sprays a defoliation agent on a dense jungle area in the Mekong delta., 07/26/1969/National Archives photo

In 2000, three decades after serving in Vietnam, Minnesota veteran Jim Fiebke of Rochester, Minn., then 52, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.  A chance encounter in a parking lot led him to the VA where he learned he qualified for funds allocated for Vietnam veterans for diseases considered "presumptive" for Agent Orange exposure.


Fiebke is one of about 2.4 million Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange sprayed by airplanes, helicopters, boats and soldiers on the ground between 1962 and 1975. About 20 million gallons of the herbicide were sprayed in Vietnam to kill foliage. 

A dozen diseases, from multiple myeloma to prostate cancer to Type 2 diabetes, have been deemed through lengthy studies and statistical analysis to be presumptive for Agent Orange exposure. In addition, health care, compensation and vocational rehabilitation services are provided to Vietnam veterans' offspring with spina bifida, a congenital birth defect of the spine which is also a risk factor related to Agent Orange exposure. But many Vietnam veterans aren't aware of the benefits available to them. Some don't realize that exposure to the dioxin in Agent Orange can manifest in illnesses decades after contact with the chemical. Unlike most VA-related health benefits, there is no time limit for claiming illness related to Agent Orange exposure. That has not always been the case. Major court decisions in 1979, 1985, and 2007, national legislation and huge ongoing epidemiological studies by the National Academies of Sciences and others have made it possible for Vietnam veterans to file Agent Orange-related claims for benefits, sometimes retroactively.

Fiebke hopes that his story will capture the attention of other Vietnam veterans and their family members, alerting them to the types of diseases considered presumptive for Agent Orange, and encourage them to apply for the benefits won over a 40-year battle.


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Kathlyn Stone is a Minnesota-based writer covering science and medicine, health care and related policies.ï She publishes, a health and science news site.
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