VA Extends Disability Benefits to Air Force Personnel Exposed to Contaminated C-123 Aircraft
On 18 June, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published a long-awaited regulation that expands eligibility for some benefits for a select group of Air Force Veterans and Air Force Reserve personnel who were exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange through regular and repeated contact with contaminated C-123 aircraft that had been used in Vietnam as part of Operation Ranch Hand (ORH).
Published as an interim final rule [Only the VA can make a final decision by its Secretary sound temporary – God love ’em], the ruling is effective 19 June and makes it easier to establish a connection to their condition being a result of Agent Orange, for it allows eligible Active Duty Air Force veterans and Air Force Reserve personnel to submit a disability compensation claim for any of the existing fourteen presumptive, medical conditions the VA has determined to be related to exposure to Agent Orange. Consequently, the VA will immediately begin processing claims for one of these conditions pending on 19 June and thereafter.
The decision stemmed from a 2015 report by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine (IOM), commissioned by the VA, on Post-Vietnam Dioxin Exposure in Agent Orange-Contaminated C-123 Aircraft. Evidence suggests as many as 1,500 to 2,100 Air Force Active Duty and Air Force Reserve personnel who served as flight, medical and ground maintenance crew members on ORH C-123 aircraft previously used to spray Agent Orange in Vietnam were exposed to the herbicide. Also notable is the period involved: from 1969 to 1986 — well after the cessation of our direct involvement in the Vietnam War.
Significantly, for affected Air Force Reserve crew members, the VA will presume their Agent Orange-related condition had its onset during their Reserve training. This ensures that these reservists are eligible for VA disability compensation and medical care for any Agent Orange-related presumptive condition, and that their surviving dependents are eligible for dependency and indemnity compensation and burial benefits.
The measure has one obvious, direct impact on Pennsylvania’s reservists The VA is encouraging reservists who were assigned to flight, ground or medical crew duties at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, International Airport ( 758th Airlift Squadron) during the period 1969 to 1986 and developed an Agent Orange-related disability to file a disability compensation claim online. While we cannot currently recommend using the eBenefits portal for the filing of a claim, we do recommend seeing a county or veterans service organization accredited service officer immediately. Other known reserve locations affected are Lockbourne/ Rickenbacker Air Force Base in Ohio (906th and 907th Tactical Air Groups or 355th and 356th Tactical Airlift Squadron) and Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts (731st Tactical Air Squadron and 74th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron).
But those Air Force personnel who served on active duty sometime during the same period should not see this ruling as primarily applying to reservists. The VA also has identified several active duty locations where ORH C-123 aircraft may have been used following their service in Vietnam. Therefore, active duty personnel who served in a regular USAF unit location where a contaminated C-123 was assigned and who had regular and repeated contact with the aircraft through flight, ground or medical duties during the period 1969 to 1986, and who develop an Agent Orange-related disability, are also encouraged to apply for benefits. That list is undoubtedly extensive.
For more information on applying for these benefits, including the affected units, Air Force Specialty Codes and dates of service for affected crew members, and a listing of Agent Orange-related conditions, visit www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/claims-postservice-agent_orange.asp.
The VA has issued some special administrative instructions as well (We are not including the eBenefits or mailing instructions as we firmly believe using a veterans service officer makes a significant difference towards a successful and properly compensated disability claim):
1) To avoid unnecessary delay of benefits, claimants should annotate “(C-123)” after each Agent Orange related disability in Part II, Block 14 of VA Form 21-526 or Section I, Block 11 of VA Form VA Form 21-526EZ. Example: Diabetes (C-123).
2) If claimants have any of the following documents, they should be attached to their application:
- Discharge, separation papers, (DD214 or equivalent)
- USAF Form 2096 (unit where assigned at the time of the training action)
- USAF Form 5 (aircraft flight duties)
- USAF Form 781 (aircraft maintenance duties)
- Dependency records (marriage & children’s birth certificates)
- Medical evidence (doctor & hospital reports)
3) Individuals with specific benefit questions related to herbicide exposure on C-123s may call VA’s special C-123 Hotline at 1-800-749-8387 (available 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. EST) or e-mail VSCC123.VAVBASPL@va.gov.
As of 19 June 2015