After a tumultuous uphill battle, some Air Force Reserve veterans will finally be able to receive disability benefits to cover Agent Orange exposure while serving around Fairchild C-123 aircraft. VA announced the decision during a closed-door meeting with The American Legion and a handful of other veterans service organizations, effective June 19. The decision is projected to result in the awarding of over $47 million in disability benefits over the next 10 years; the decision may slightly add to VA’s backlog of disability claims.
Affected individuals, not otherwise eligible for VA healthcare benefits, will also be afforded access to medical care and survivor benefits once supporting documentation is provided indicating herbicide exposure. Previously used to spray herbicides during the Vietnam War, reservists utilized the aircraft from 1969 to 1986 to transport cargo and medical supplies.
VA’s denials of claims associated with C-123 aircraft were based upon the premise that reservists were not exposed to the toxic herbicide. Nearly one month ago, VA Secretary Robert McDonald agreed to recognize the findings of a January 2015 study by the Institute of Medicine revealing that reservists were exposed to the contaminant at levels that would impact their health. After an initial indication that VA would grant the presumptive exposure, VA delayed its implementation of the policy. The failure to implement the policy garnered national attention after three senators placed a hold on the nomination of David Shulkin, M.D., for Under Secretary for Health until a formal announcement of the change in policy regarding C-123 aircraft.
“Our sense of relief is tempered by the grief felt for lost comrades,” said retired Maj. Wesley Carter, president of the C-123 Veterans Association. “It is also tempered with memories of well-funded and adversarial actions employed against our claims by the VA. Every medical and scientific fact that convinced the Institute of Medicine of our Agent Orange exposures in 2014 had been presented to the VA years earlier, but was ignored.”
Carter attributed the success of the campaign to The American Legion and other supporters who rallied behind the association. Though VA’s announcement signifies a major victory, Carter added that VA leaders need to review their actions to ensure that veterans exposed to toxins no longer “face such an unhappy struggle.”
More information can be found by visiting the VA’s website.
Veterans are also encouraged to call (800) 749-8387 for more information, or email VSCC123.VAVBASPL@va.gov.