Hazardous Exposures and Birth Defects

Table of Contents

Period of Service: 1945 to 1962; Japan, Pacific Ocean, and Nevada
Period of Service: 1944 to 1969; Herbicide Tests & Storage Outside of Vietnam
Period of Service: 1962 to about 1974; Stateside and on Navy Ships
Period of Service: 1965 to about 1974; Amchitka Island, Alaska
Period of Service: 1961 to 1975; Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, States, Etc.
Period of Service: 1961 to 1986; Various USAF Bases, Overseas & U.S.
Period of Service: prior to 1988, US Marine Corps;  Camp Lejeune
Period of Service: 1990 on; Southwest Asia Theater
Period of Service: 2001 on; Afghanistan Theater
Period of Service: Miscellaneous
Birth Defects and Veterans’ Children
Alternative Look-Up: Military Hazardous Exposures Index


 The military service has many hazards – not all at first apparent.  We often hear of the Agent Orange and its Registry, though there is confusion over what that does.  However, there are lesser known “hazardous exposures” as well.

Below is a simple listing of hazards particular to military service of which we know and where to find out more information.  They are grouped by period of service and location where possible for your convenience.  Many have presumptive illnesses attached, making the burden of proof on your part much less onerous, if you are applying for a compensation claim incident to getting healthcare.

If you think or know one of these hazardous exposures applies to you or a loved one, contact the Environmental Health Coordinator of your servicing VA facility to discuss your situation.  These are easily found on this site:  http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/coordinators.asp.  In the Lehigh Valley, contact Georgianne Nagle, Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center, at tel: 1-877-928-2621 ext. 4451/4164 (toll free) or 570- 824-3521 ext. 4451/4164 or via email: Georgianne.Nagle@va.gov (replaces Casilda Ortiz).

In addition, consult an accredited service officer (see Local Veterans Benefits Counseling and Claims Services ).  Contacting a good service officer adds a measure of protection for you that goes beyond the claims file aspect.

Four things to remember:

  1. Many exposures have registries. While do not get you monetary compensation directly, the registries serve as the gateway to your getting the healthcare you require regardless of monetary compensation (a separate matter) — we believe health care is the first priority.
  2. Registering involves receiving a health examination to assess you, which can also be used as a basis for applying for compensation.
  3. New diseases and illnesses resulting from these hazardous exposures are constantly being added. It is worth keeping current if you have been denied previously.
  4. Because a registry does not exist, does not mean you are at an impasse.  Registries are more about the government and collecting scientific data to determine causal relationships than about you, although you gain a derivative benefit through the examination and being put on a periodical list. That there is not a registry does not mean you did not have a hazardous exposure.  It does not mean you should not apply for examination.  It does not mean you should not file a claim.  Hence the importance of seeing a service officer and consulting with the Environmental Health Coordinator.

If you know of other useful sites, please contact us.

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 Period of Service:

  1945 to 1962; Japan, Pacific Ocean and Nevada

Those who served in the occupation of Hiroshima and Nagaski Japan between 6 August 1945 and 1 July 1946 are considered to have particpated in radiation risk activity, as were prisoners of war in Japan during World War II.  Also at risk are those who participated in atmospheric nuclear weapons testing primarily in Nevada and the Pacific Ocean  from 1945  to 1962.  Grouped together these veterans are unofficially known as the “Atomic Veterans”  and formally fall under the  “Nuclear Test Personnel Review Program (NTPR).”

Nuclear Test Personnel Review:   http://www.dtra.mil/SpecialFocus/NTPR/NTPRFactSheet.aspx

Hazardous Exposures:  Ionizing Radiation. For more information:  http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/radiation/index.asp

Illnesses Associated:  http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/radiation/diseases.asp

Registry:  http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/radiation/registry.asp

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Period of Service:

  1944 to 1969; Herbicide Tests & Storage Outside of Vietnam

In addition to the more familiar Agent Orange in Vietnam, other locations within the U.S. and outside of it, had potential herbicide exposures and not just Agent Orange alone.  Below are Herbicide test and storage sites thus far identified.

Hazardous Exposures Inside the United States (by location): http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/outside_vietnam_usa.asp
Hazardous Exposures Outside the United States (by location):  http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/outside_vietnam.asp

Illnesses Associated:  See sidebars on websites above.

Registry:  None known except for Agent Orange.  See 1961 to 1975 below for Agent Orange Registry.

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Period of Service:

1962 to about 1974; Stateside and on Navy Ships

From 1962 to 1974, the Department of Defense’s Deseret Test Center in Fort Douglas, Utah planned and conducted a series of biological and chemical warfare vulnerability tests. These tests are known as Project 112 and Project SHAD (the Navy tests) and consisted of both land-based and sea-based tests at different locations.

Project 112/SHAD Website: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/shad/index.asp .

Hazardous Exposures: The Department of Defense (DoD) used a wide range of agents in the tests, including the biological warfare agents Coxiella Burnetii, Francisella tularensis, and Staphylococcal Enterotoxin B, and the nerve agents sarin, VX, tabun and soman.

Registry: None

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Period of Service:

1965 to 1974; Amchitka Island, Alaska

Underground nuclear testing was conducted on Amchitka Island in 1965, 1969, and 1971.  The tests were named “Longshot,” “Milrow,” and “Cannikin”, respectively.  Those who were in proximity of the explosions prior to January 1, 1974 are at least eligible for radiation registry health examination.

Hazardous Exposures:  Ionizing Radiation. For more information:  http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/radiation/index.asp

Illnesses Associated:  http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/radiation/diseases.asp

Registry:  http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/radiation/registry.asp

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Period of Service:

1961 to 1975; Vietnam, Thailand, SE Asia, Korea, States, etc.

Largely unreported, Agent Orange exposure was not confined to Vietnam or Southeast Asia.

Agent Orange Sitehttp://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/index.asp

Illnesses Associated:  These  illnesses and diseases are associated with it and more will probably be added over time: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/diseases.asp .

Who Might Be Eligible for Help:  It is more prevalent than at first suspected and you need not have served in Vietnam to have been exposed.  Click here for the best explanation of those who may have been affected and in the case of the Blue Water Navy: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/bluewaterveterans.asp

Agent Orange Registry:  http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/registry.asp

In regard to your children, see Birth Defects and Veterans’ Children.

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Period of Service:

1969 to 1986; Various Air Forces Bases, Overseas and U.S.

Published as an interim final rule effective 19 June 2015,  Active Duty Air Force and Air Force Reserve personnel who served in a USAF unit location where a contaminated C-123 aircraft was assigned and who had regular and repeated contact with the aircraft through flight, ground or medical duties during the period 1969 to 1986, may now submit for disability compensation claim for any of the existing presumptive, medical conditions the VA has determined to be related to exposure to Agent Orange.  There is no requirement to have served in the Vietnam combat theater.

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.

Also refer to Period of Service: 1961-1975 above.

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Period of Service:

Prior to 1988, US Marine Corps; Camp Lejeune

1. Status of Department of Defense (DoD) Studies: There was a drinking water contamination problem that affected those who resided or were stationed at Camp LeJeune.  There are potential links to cancer. This Marine Corps headquarters site provides the specifics:  https://clnr.hqi.usmc.mil/clwater/  as does  the conducting agency’s site: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/sites/lejeune/ , the latter being the better site for details and current information on past work, the former being of greater use in alerting one to current surveys.  A quick and dirty summary of the situation, though it needs an update, can be found by clicking here and all the areas affected can be found by clicking here .

The latest study is now expected to be completed in 2014, but there are prior reports.  The concern is over extended impacts, most probably.  Multiple locations were involved. It was not just the Tarawa Terrace area which was affected as commonly reported in the press.  The latest Hadnot Point findings are due in 2012 (They were originally due in 2009), though a previous report exists (see sidebars on the ATSDR site).  Note the VA recognizes these reports and uses them in their findings.

2. The Effects of Recent Congressional Action: The President signed into law on 6 August 2012 the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 (H.R. 1627) as Public Law 112-154.  Sections 102 and 103 of the law circumvented the delays the studies above had caused in obtaining healthcare, to a point, and established 15 illnesses for which the Department of Veterans Affairs must provide medical care “… notwithstanding that there is insufficient medical evidence to conclude that such illnesses or conditions are attributable to such service.”  In other words, the act required the VA to provide health care to veterans who served at Camp Lejeune, and to reimburse family members or pay providers for medical expenses.  It affected those Marines and their families (to include children in utero) who dwelled there for not fewer than 30 days during the period beginning on  August 1, 1953 [change as of 8 July 2016, previously  January 1, 1957] and ending on December 31, 1987.

However, that law did not address obtaining  VA disability compensation.  While it continued to monitor the above DoD research, the VA stated “At this time  there is insufficient scientific and clinical evidence to establish a presumptive association between service at Camp Lejeune during the period of water contamination and the development of certain diseases.”  That did not mean one could not apply for compensation.  The VA went onto say, “Veterans may file a claim for disability compensation for health problems they believe are related to exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.  VA decides these claims on a case-by-case basis.”  Compensation cases had been won, though there were few, and these were hard fought.  It  was a difficult process without presumptive conditions for a disability compensation rating having been established, as occurred for Agent Orange exposure.  Therefore, effectively, most veterans were left hanging in regard to proving their contention.

On 9 September 2016, the VA published in the Federal Register (81 FR 62419) a notice of a proposal to amend 38 CFR 3.307 and 3.309.  The Congress did not intervene.  In effect, this action action allowed a veteran to apply for service-connected, monetary compensation for eight presumptive conditions in addition to applying for and receiving health care, using the presumption that the illness/disease listed above were the result of being stationed at Camp Lejeune and the other locations listed.   These disability compensation presumptions complemented the health care already provided for 15 illnesses or conditions as part of the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012.   The burden of proof was much eased and the process expedited — the process being the same as for Agent Orange presumptive conditions.

The presumption of service connection applies to active-duty, reserve and National Guard members who served at Camp Lejeune for a minimum of 30 days (cumulative) between 1 August 1953 and 31 December 1987 and are diagnosed with any of the following conditions:

  • Adult leukemia
  • Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Parkinson’s disease

The locations affected are Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River, including their satellite camps and housing areas.

3.  Latest Updates:  click here

Hazardous Exposures:  http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/camp-lejeune/research.asp and http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/sites/lejeune/

Illnesses Associated: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/camp-lejeune/index.asp

Registry:  USMC/DoD registry: https://clnr.hqi.usmc.mil/clwater/index.aspx .   There is no VA registry.

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Period of Service:

1990 on; Southwest Asia Theater

Gulf War Syndrome has gotten the attention, but there have been other hazards and not all are confined during this current period of conflict to the Southwest Asia Theater.

Gulf War Illnesses Site:  http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/gulfwar/index.asp .

Illnesses Associated: Various illnesses and diseases have been associated with the theater of operations and more are being added : http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/gulfwar/associated_illnesses.asp .

Other Hazardous Exposures Associated:  But there also other hazardous exposures associated with service in that theater that should not be overlooked: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/oefoif/index.asp

Who Might be Eligible for Help: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/gulfwar/registry_exam.asp#eligible

Gulf War Registry:  http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/gulfwar/registry_exam.asp

Airborne Hazards and Burn Pit Registry: https://veteran.mobilehealth.va.gov/AHBurnPitRegistry/#page/home

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Period of Service:

2001 on; Afghanistan Theater

While there is no known registry, many of the illnesses and exposures that apply to the Southwest Asia Theater apply to the Aghanistan Theater as well.

Hazardous Exposures:  http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/oefoif/index.asp

Who Might Be Eligible:  Operation Enduring Freedom veterans

Registries:  See the Gulf War Registry and Airborne Hazards and Burn Pit Registry in the preceding section.  Otherwise, your gateway is not a registry but the Five Year Combat Veteran Program (http://www.va.gov/healtheligibility/)

Period of Service:


Noise, Vibration, and Other Related Exposures (like TBI):  http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/physical/index.aspThis has particular application for those who were under mortar, artillery or armor attack or experienced IED blasts.

Cold and Heat Injuries: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/cold_heat/index.asp .  The recent spate of applications by Battle of the Bulge (WWII) veterans highlighted the prevalence of cold injuries as a result of military service.

Other Chemical Biological Exposures:  http://fhp.osd.mil/CBexposures/ .  This Military Health System Site reports on other possible exposures from World War II through the Cold War, not commonly thought of or known.

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Birth Defects and Veterans’ Children

Question #1: Are the children of veterans entitled to any Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Agent Orange compensation, healthcare, or special education? Is spina bifida the only birth defect covered?

Answer: Agent Orange exposure is not the only circumstance for compensation, actually. Certain Vietnam-era veterans’ children with either spina bifida or another covered birth defect may be eligible for compensation, health care, and vocational training. While spina bifida is correlated to Agent Orange exposure according to the VA, the other recognized birth defects are not.

  • Sub-question #1: When must the veteran be a female?
  • Answer: When birth defects other than spina bifida are involved.
  • Sub-question #2: Must the veteran have served in Vietnam?
  • Answer: For spina bifida alone the answer is no. Service in Korea during a specific period and location applies.
  •  Sub-question #3: Are birth defects other than spina bifida tied to exposure to Agent Orange?
  • Answer: No, to repeat, they are tied to the service of a woman veteran in Vietnam.
  •  Sub-question #4: Are any other theaters of operation covered for birth defects entitlements?
  • Answer: Currently, one can only find Vietnam and Korea as being listed.  There has been some some talk about those who were at air bases in Thailand where Agent Orange was used.  Inquire of the VA through a service officer on this question.

Question #2: What are these “other covered birth defects” apart from spina bifida?

Answer: Birth defects are abnormalities present at birth that result in mental or physical disabilities. VA recognizes a wide range of birth defects as associated with women Veterans’ service in Vietnam. These diseases are not tied to herbicides, including Agent Orange, or dioxin exposure, but rather to the birth mother’s service in Vietnam.

Covered birth defects include, but are not limited to, the following conditions: achondroplasia, cleft lip and cleft palate, congenital heart disease, congenital talipes equinovarus (clubfoot), esophageal and intestinal atresia, Hallerman-Streiff syndrome, hip dysplasia, Hirschprung’s disease (congenital megacolon), hydrocephalus due to aqueductal stenosis, hypospadias, imperforate anus, neural tube defects, Poland syndrome, pyloric stenosis, syndactyly (fused digits), tracheoesophageal fistula, undescended testicle, and Williams syndrome.

Conditions due to family disorders, birth-related injuries, or fetal or neonatal infirmities with well-established causes are not covered. If any of the birth defects listed above are determined to be a family disorder in a particular family, they are not covered birth defects.

Question #3: To which children does a birth defect benefit apply?

Answer: Children who have spina bifida (except spina bifida occulta) and are biological children of Veterans who served in Vietnam or in the demilitarized zone in Korea during the Vietnam era may be eligible if the birth father or mother served: (1) In Vietnam during the period from January 9, 1962 through May 7, 1975, or (2) In or near the Korean demilitarized zone during the period from September 1, 1967 through August 31, 1971 and were exposed to herbicides. Furthermore, the affected child must have been conceived after the veteran first entered Vietnam or the Korean demilitarized zone during the qualifying service period.

Children who have other birth defects and are biological children of women veterans who served in Vietnam may be eligible if the birth mother served in Vietnam during the period beginning February 28, 1961 and ending on May 7, 1975. Also, the affected child must have been conceived after the Veteran first entered Vietnam during the qualifying service period.

Question #4: How does one apply for these benefits?

Answer: A special form is used, the VA Form 21-0304, “Application for Benefits for Certain Children with Disabilities born of Vietnam and Certain Korea Service Veterans” and mailed in. It is recommended that an accredited veterans service officer be consulted before applying.

Question #5: Does the Agent Orange Registry have anything to do with this?

Answer: No, the registry’s purpose bears explanation. VA established the Agent Orange Registry to track the special health concerns of Veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange during their military service. The collected data enables VA to understand and address health problems more effectively. Get it? It’s about demographic analysis. The Agent Orange Registry exam is not a claim for VA benefits; nor is it required to receive VA benefits.

Nevertheless, it is a wise thing to register because it provides for a free, comprehensive health care examination, including exposure and medical histories, laboratory tests, and physical exam. The results discussed by a VA health professional with Veteran, both in a personal face-to-face consultation and a follow-up letter (according to the VA).

One does not have to be enrolled in the VA healthcare system to receive it. Contact 1-877-222-8387 (VA Health Resource Center) and ask to speak to the Environmental Health Coordinator (note: this site lists name and email contact for Allentown Clinic) or Patient Care Advocate.

Question #6: Upon the death of a veteran who died of an Agent Orange disease, are his children entitled to compensation or any other benefits?

Answer:  This is a separate issue from the one about children with birth defects, but sometimes overlooked. Surviving spouses, children and dependent parents of Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and died as the result of diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure may be eligible for a monthly payment called Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. These survivors also may be eligible for education, home loan, and medical care benefits. Find out if you qualify for survivors’ benefits.

Question #7:  What is the definition of dependent child?

Answer:  Check with an accredited service officer, but generally it is a surviving child (including natural child, adopted child and stepchild) or dependent grandchild (including step-grandchild) who at any time since the veteran died, was unmarried and (a) under age 18; (b) age 18 to 19 and attending secondary school; (c) disabled or handicapped (18 or over and disability began before age 22).

Primary Sources

  1. http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/benefits.asp
  2. http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/benefits_children.asp . Accessed 3 Feb 2011

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Alternative Look-Up:

Military Hazardous Exposure Index

The VA website’s Military Exposures web page provides a listing of known issues on military hazardous exposures by subject area and their status; and, therefore, has created an alternative,  convenient way to determine if you have been possibly affected — especially since not all hazardous exposures can be  conveniently grouped by period of service.

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Last Updated: 22 June 2017 (addition of Lejeune's presumptive conditions)

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