The Debate Over Agent Orange in Thailand

A specific group of Vietnam-era veterans with illnesses caused by Agent Orange exposure have struggled for years to prove it to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). These veterans, who served on military bases in Thailand spanning 14 years from February 28, 1961 to May 7, 1975, have had their disability claims routinely denied for illnesses identified as presumptive for veterans who served in Vietnam.

Why? Because the VA deemed that these veterans were not actually part of the Vietnam War. They did not set foot on Vietnam soil. Therefore, veterans who served in Thailand at that time were not exposed to Agent Orange.

Use of Agent Orange Confirmed on Vietnam-Era Thailand Military Bases

But now the barrier to VA disability compensation for these veterans has seemingly lifted. Evidence suppressed since 1973 agrees with what they have been saying all along. The declassified Department of Defense (DoD) “Project CHECO Southeast Asia Report: Base Defense in Thailand 1968-1972”reveals top-secret security operations in Thailand and confirms that Agent Orange was used extensively to defoliate the perimeters surrounding the Royal Thai Air Force Bases of U- Tapaco, Ubon, Nakhon, Phanom, Udom, Takhli, Korat, and Don Muang.  The DoD report has led to a rule-changer for processing disability claims for Vietnam-era veterans who served in Thailand.

New VA Guidelines for Agent Orange Claims

In fact, just over a year ago, in May, 2010, the VA added guidelines to the Agent Orange Act (CFR Title 38 Section 1116) that extends compensation to veterans who supported the Vietnam conflict outside of Vietnam, such as Blue Water Vietnam Veterans. The guidelines are also to be used for processing claims for veterans of the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, military police (MP) and Army personnel who provided perimeter security in Thailand.

According to the guidelines, a statement of involvement in perimeter security duty in Thailand with “credible evidence supporting this statement” is required to establish Agent Orange exposure.  This means that VA regional officers cannot dismiss an Agent Orange claim because the veteran did not set foot in Vietnam. Instead, they are required to evaluate all aspects of the case to fairly determine if the veteran’s duties, based on “facts found” or on a “direct basis,” led to Agent Orange exposure and illness. If the evidence supports the claim, this would allow for presumptive service connection and disability benefits for the veteran.

Pathway to VA Disability Benefits Still Tough

However, veterans who served in Thailand are finding that it is still hard to break through the “service in-country” stigma at some VA regional offices. And, despite the VA rule changes, the pathway to benefits is not easy.  The VA is tough on evaluating proof, even for veterans suffering from presumptive illnesses such as Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Ischemic heart disease, or Parkinson’s disease.  

Alpha advocates believe that these Vietnam-era veterans, many of whom have struggled with the VA for over 30 years, have waited long enough for benefits due them and their families. They should not give up the fight, and are urged to contact a VA-accredited Alpha advocate to help them prove their claim to the VA.

Note: All representation coordinated by Alpha is provided by our employees, the Advocates, who are accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). No private organization that trains and employs accredited agents has been legally recognized by the VA for the purposes of preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims. This work must be done by the Advocates themselves and not organizations.