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The VA's Latest Agent Orange Compensation: Is It Too Little, Too Late?

Back in 2004, while I was covering Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign for Newsweek, I broke a story about his heavy exposure to the highly toxic herbicide Agent Orange used by the U.S. military while he captained a Swift Boat in Vietnam's Mekong Delta, and the fact that he had prostate cancer. I also learned that Kerry's closest friend, Giles Whitcomb, who trained with Kerry in San Diego and who was with him in Vietnam, died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Kerry was convinced that Whitcomb got lymphoma as a result of his exposure to Agent Orange, as was Whitcomb's widow, Susan Carrol Whitcomb, who told me that Kerry wrote a letter to the Veterans Administration on behalf of Whitcomb's family helping them with the bureaucratic maze involved in filing a claim with the VA. It took many years for the VA to link Agent Orange exposure to a variety of diseases (including both Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and prostate cancer). Meantime, tens of thousands of veterans' claims were denied. Now, some 35 years after the end of the Vietnam War, the VA has announced that it has linked three more diseases to Agent Orange exposure (even though many Vietnam veterans have presumably already died from these diseases): heart disease, Parkinson's disease, and B-cell (or 'hairy cell') leukemia.

To its credit, the already-backlogged VA has launched a variety of fast-track initiatives to tackle an anticipated upsurge in Agent Orange-related claims (possibly as many as 200,000 new claims). But one can only imagine how many veterans and their families could have been assisted had this latest acknowledgment come a decade, or two, or three, sooner.

Francine from Phoenix, Arizona writes on her blog:

ACScharf writes:

In addition to the three diseases added to the list, 11 diseases are presumed by VA to be service-related for compensation purposes for veterans exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides used in support of military operations in Vietnam between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975. The diseases include:

Chloracne or other acneform disease similar to chloracne Porphyria cutanea tarda Soft-tissue sarcoma (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi's sarcoma or mesothelioma) Hodgkin's lymphoma Multiple myeloma Respiratory cancers (lung, bronchus, larynx, trachea) Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma Prostate cancer Acute and subacute peripheral neuropathy Diabetes mellitus (Type 2) Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)