Agent Orange Survivor Benefits for Surviving Spouses and Dependents

Key Takeaways

Toxic chemical defoliant Agent Orange caused tragic health consequences for millions during and after the Vietnam War.
Survivors’ benefits are available to spouses and dependents of deceased Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
The 2022 PACT Act expanded benefits for veterans and their families affected by Agent Orange.
Survivors’ benefits include home loans, DIC payments, health care, education and training, and survivors’ pension, among others.
For benefits eligibility, ensure the veteran has undergone an Agent Orange Registry exam during their lifetime - if not, schedule a posthumous exam.

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Agent Orange Survivor Benefits for Surviving Spouses and Dependents

Key Takeaways

Toxic chemical defoliant Agent Orange caused tragic health consequences for millions during and after the Vietnam War.
Survivors’ benefits are available to spouses and dependents of deceased Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
The 2022 PACT Act expanded benefits for veterans and their families affected by Agent Orange.
Survivors’ benefits include home loans, DIC payments, health care, education and training, and survivors’ pension, among others.
For benefits eligibility, ensure the veteran has undergone an Agent Orange Registry exam during their lifetime - if not, schedule a posthumous exam.

If You Lost Your Loved One to Agent Orange Exposure, You May Be Entitled to Survivors Benefits.

Most of us know someone who fought in Vietnam. Usually, that person has a difficult time talking about it. The day they were whisked away by the draft, they were probably around 18 to 22, with no combat experience and little knowledge of a country half a world away. Far from the safety of home, more than two million young men exchanged the fields, farms, and city streets they knew for hot, humid jungles and the thunder of artillery. Between scenes of death and terror, they read and reread letters from home, wondering if they would ever see their families again. When these men did return, they came back changed. As the war carved lifelong scars into their minds, an unseen enemy had quietly infiltrated their cells - Agent Orange.

What is Agent Orange?

A powerful chemical defoliant, Agent Orange was used in vast quantities as a part of Operation Ranch Hand between 1962 to 1971. This chemical weapon - sprayed over Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia at up to 20 times the recommended concentration for killing plants - was meant to destroy crops and strip jungles of the dense tropical foliage enemies used as cover. Tragically, the dioxin compound present in Agent Orange poisoned millions who encountered it - both American and Vietnamese. Agent Orange was later linked to serious health issues, including cancers, birth defects, Parkinson’s Disease, rashes and severe psychological and neurological conditions.

At Wettermark Keith, we understand that the legacy of the Vietnam war extends far beyond the battlefield. More than 300,000 veterans have died from Agent Orange exposure - nearly five times as many as the 58,000 who died in combat. The pain of losing a loved one can be far more profound when you know their suffering and death could have been avoided. The spouses and dependents of Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange remember endless nights of pain, long waits in hospital corridors, and a constant search for answers - memories of a war that refused to end.

Bridging the Gap: Survivors' Benefits

The financial burden that a veteran's family faces can be daunting. From the high costs of treatment and medications to prolonged hospital stays and palliative care, medical expenses tend to accumulate. This financial strain is worsened when the deceased veteran was the primary earner in the household, leaving a void that's not just emotional, but also monetary. The situation can become even more precarious if the veteran's health insurance was the safety net for their spouse and dependents.

While the VA cannot undo the damage of losing your loved one, it has resources available to help you navigate the aftermath. VA survivors’ benefits were designed to provide a measure of financial security to those left behind, lightening the financial load during a period of intense grief. Agent Orange survivors’ benefits ensure ongoing support for spouses and dependents, providing regular financial assistance, healthcare coverage, home loans, and even education. Read below to discover how this system works - and exactly what benefits you might qualify for.

Agent Orange Exposure During Military Service: A Toxic Past

During the Vietnam War, millions of U.S. military personnel were exposed to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange, including soldiers stationed in or near the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Agent Orange created a highly toxic contaminant known as 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). Once released into the environment, TCDD takes years to break down, and causes a wide array of negative health effects for anyone exposed to it. TCDD has been linked to cancers, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and birth defects in Vietnam veterans exposed to the herbicide - and their children.

After a bitter 14-year campaign by affected veterans, the U.S. government finally recognized the link between these health conditions and Agent Orange exposure in the early 1990s - and expanded their healthcare and benefits policies accordingly. The Agent Orange Act of 1991 allowed the VA to declare certain health conditions as "presumptive" to Agent Orange exposure, therefore providing benefits to veterans suffering from these conditions without requiring them to prove direct exposure. However, the list of presumptive conditions has been the subject of ongoing debate and review, and many veterans and advocacy groups have continued to push for the inclusion of additional conditions they believe are associated with Agent Orange. Most recently, the addition of ischemic heart disease, Parkinson's disease, and B-cell leukemias to the list in 2010, the 2019 Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (extending the presumption of exposure to veterans who served offshore in Vietnam), and the recent 2022 PACT Act have all expanded VA benefits to those who most deserve it.

The Health Consequences of Agent Orange Exposure

The health conditions linked to Agent Orange exposure are numerous, from cancers to heart disease. While the severity of these conditions vary, they are often debilitating to veterans and their families. Below are the most common health conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure:

1. Cancer

Agent Orange exposure has been linked to various types of cancer, including prostate cancer, lung cancer, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Studies have shown that the risk of these cancers is far higher in veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange compared to those who were not. Additionally, there is evidence to suggest that the children of exposed individuals may also have an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer.

2. Birth Defects

There is a well-established link between Agent Orange exposure and birth defects, particularly spina bifida. Spina bifida is a neural tube defect that occurs when the spinal column does not fully close during fetal development. Studies have shown that the risk of spina bifida is higher in the children of exposed individuals compared to the general population.

3. Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. Research has suggested that exposure to Agent Orange may increase the risk of developing Parkinson's disease, although the exact mechanism by which this occurs is not fully understood.

4. Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that can cause weakness, numbness, and pain in the hands and feet. Studies have shown that exposure to Agent Orange may increase the risk of developing peripheral neuropathy, although the severity of the condition can vary widely.

5. Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which the body does not produce enough insulin or is unable to use insulin properly. There is evidence to suggest that exposure to Agent Orange may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, although the exact mechanism by which this occurs is not fully understood.

6. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD is a progressive lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe. Studies have shown that exposure to Agent Orange may increase the risk of developing COPD, although the severity of the condition can vary widely.

7. Ischemic Heart Disease

Ischemic heart disease is caused by reduced blood flow to the heart. There is evidence to suggest that exposure to Agent Orange may increase the risk of developing ischemic heart disease, although the exact mechanism by which this occurs is not fully understood.

8. Hodgkin's Disease

Hodgkin's disease, a type of lymphoma that originates in the white blood cells, has been associated with exposure to Agent Orange. This debilitating disease can compromise the body's ability to fight infections, leading to serious health complications.

9. Multiple Myeloma

Multiple myeloma, a blood disease characterized by malignant plasma cells, has been linked to Agent Orange exposure. This can affect the body's ability to produce healthy blood cells and can lead to anemia, infections, and severe bone pain.

10. Soft Tissue Sarcomas

Soft tissue sarcomas, which form in the body's soft tissues like fat, muscle, nerves, fibrous tissues, and blood vessels, have been associated with exposure to Agent Orange. These are relatively rare but can be aggressive and life-threatening if not detected and treated early.

11. Hypertension

Recent studies have suggested a potential link between Agent Orange exposure and the development of hypertension, a condition characterized by persistently high blood pressure. Uncontrolled hypertension can lead to heart disease and stroke.

The severity of these conditions varies widely, and not all individuals who were exposed to Agent Orange will develop them. If you or your loved one were exposed to Agent Orange, speak to a healthcare professional about any potential health conditions.

The 2022 PACT Act: Presumptive Conditions for Agent Orange Exposure

The Presumptive Agent Orange Conditions for Veterans (PACT) Act was passed in August 2022 to address the difficulties that veterans who had been exposed to Agent Orange face when attempting to claim their VA benefits. The PACT Act amends Title 38 of the U.S. Code for VA benefits to consider an expanded list of conditions as “presumed” to be service-connected.

This presumptive status means that a veteran does not need to prove that their illness is linked to their service to qualify for disability compensation. Instead, the VA would presume that their condition is service-related if the veteran served in a location during a time period when they could have been exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides.

Although the PACT Act was not specifically intended for surviving spouses and dependents, if it were to pass, it would still indirectly benefit them. With more conditions being recognized as service-related due to exposure to Agent Orange, the likelihood of their veteran's death being classified as "service-connected" would increase. This designation is vital because surviving spouses, children, and parents are only eligible for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) from the VA if their veteran's death is service-connected.

Through the PACT Act, the VA established a list of "presumptive conditions" that are automatically considered service-connected for veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, as well as a few other locations and deployments. If a veteran has one of these conditions and can demonstrate that they were exposed to Agent Orange during service, they will be eligible for the VA’s disability compensation and other benefits.

According to the PACT Act, these presumptive conditions include:

AL Amyloidosis

Chronic B-cell Leukemias

Chloracne

Diabetes Mellitus Type 2

Hodgkin's Disease

Ischemic Heart Disease

Multiple Myeloma

Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

Parkinson's Disease

Peripheral Neuropathy, Early-Onset

Porphyria Cutanea Tarda

Prostate Cancer

Respiratory Cancers (including lung cancer)

Soft Tissue Sarcomas (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi's sarcoma, or mesothelioma)

In addition to these presumptive conditions, veterans and survivors exposed to Agent Orange may be eligible for benefits through other conditions not on the presumptive list. To receive benefits, veterans or survivors must show that there is a link between the veteran’s military service and condition by providing evidence, medical records and documentation of their exposure to Agent Orange.

What Benefits Are Surviving Spouses and Dependents Entitled to?

Surviving spouses and dependents of veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange may be eligible for several benefits from the VA. This includes:

1. Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)

DIC is a tax-free monetary benefit paid to surviving spouses and dependents of veterans who died as a result of their military service. To be eligible for DIC, the veteran must have been exposed to Agent Orange during their military service, and their death must have been caused by one of the presumptive conditions recognized by the VA as being linked to Agent Orange exposure. Surviving spouses and dependent children applying for DIC will need to provide documents showing proof of their marriage (or relation) to the veteran, as well as the veteran's service records showing their exposure to Agent Orange. Medical evidence will also be required linking the veteran's cause of death to a presumptive condition recognized by the VA as being caused by Agent Orange.

*Note that you must be approved for DIC benefits before you can qualify for any of the survivors benefits listed below.

2. Survivors Pension

Survivors Pension is a tax-free monetary benefit paid to the surviving spouses and dependents of veterans who have low income and are permanently and totally disabled, or who died as a result of a non-service-related condition. Applicants must meet income limits set by the VA and demonstrate financial need. Unlike DIC, the veteran's death does not need to be caused by their military service or Agent Orange exposure. However, surviving spouses of veterans exposed to Agent Orange can qualify for this pension if they meet the income and need requirements. Documents needed include proof of income, net worth, and unreimbursed medical expenses.

3. Education and Training

Education and training benefits are available to unmarried dependent children and surviving spouses of veterans who died from service-related causes or have permanent and total service-connected disabilities. Benefits can cover expenses like tuition, housing, books, and supplies associated with an approved education program. Those applying will need to provide documentation of their relation to the veteran along with evidence of the veteran's disability status or service-related death. Surviving dependents of veterans exposed to Agent Orange can access these education benefits as long as they meet eligibility criteria regarding relationship to the veteran and the veteran's disability or cause of death.

4. Health Care

Health care benefits through the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) are accessible to eligible survivors and dependents of veterans exposed to Agent Orange during military service. Benefits include medical, dental and mental health services. To qualify, survivors/dependents must be able to document the veteran's service dates, exposure to Agent Orange, and current disability status as determined by the VA. This coverage is primarily based on the veteran’s disability status and exposure history documented in their VA records.

5. Home Loan Guaranty

Surviving spouses of veterans who died as a result of their military service or who have a permanent and total service-connected disability may be eligible for home loan benefits through the VA. These benefits provide VA-backed home loans and assistance with refinancing existing mortgages. Eligible surviving spouses must show proof of their unmarried status and the veteran's disability rating or service-related cause of death. These benefits are accessible to eligible surviving spouses of veterans exposed to Agent Orange as long as they meet the VA requirements regarding marital status and the veteran's disability/death circumstances.

Navigating the VA Survivors’ Benefits Application Process

In the wake of losing a loved one, the challenges involved with accessing VA survivor benefits can feel like an insurmountable task. It is a challenging road filled with bureaucratic steps that can be overwhelming. This guide is here to help you navigate the process to ensure you can access the aid you're entitled to.

1. Secure the Veterans Military Records

Before beginning the application process, verify the service history of the deceased veteran. You must obtain records of the dates and locations of service, specifically in Vietnam or other designated Agent Orange exposure zones. These records are crucial in establishing the veteran's exposure to the defoliant, serving as an essential foundation for your claim. If you cannot find your veteran’s military records or believe you are missing some records, you can submit an online request here to receive a copy of the veteran’s military records.

2. Verify Agent Orange Exposure

Was the veteran part of the Agent Orange Registry? If yes, then their exposure and health status have been documented. If the veteran had not undergone an Agent Orange Registry exam during their lifetime, you must contact the VA to schedule a posthumous exam and officially establish the veteran’s exposure to Agent Orange.

3. Posthumous Registration in the Agent Orange Registry

If you're applying for healthcare benefits, it's critical that you posthumously register the veteran in the Agent Orange Registry. This will firmly establish the link between the veteran’s service-related exposure and their health complications.

4. Identify What Benefits You’re Eligible For

After you successfully file for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), there are several additional types of VA survivors’ benefits you may qualify for, including housing loans and Survivors Pension. Familiarize yourself with these programs to understand their terms and eligibility requirements.

5. Gather Documentation

A successful claim relies heavily on thorough and relevant documentation. This includes the veteran's military and medical records, a marriage certificate or other proof of dependency, and medical evidence that establishes a link between the veteran's death or disability and Agent Orange exposure.

6. Consult an Accredited VA Representative

Preparing and submitting complex claims with 100% accuracy can be challenging - and having a knowledgeable ally on your side can be invaluable. An accredited VA representative can guide you through the process, ensuring all evidence and forms are completed correctly.

7. Submit Your Claim

Once your claim is prepared, submit it at your VA regional office or online through one of the programs listed on the VA website at https://eauth.va.gov/accessva/#forServiceMembers. Ensure that all your claims and supporting documents are included in your submission.

8. Maintain Contact with the VA

Specific programs may require additional steps such as interviews, assessments, or further record requests. It's crucial to answer any VA communications and complete these steps promptly to keep your claim moving forward.

Who is Wettermark Keith?

With offices located throughout Alabama, Tennessee and Florida, Wettermark Keith has an excellent reputation as one of the most accomplished personal injury firms in the country. We have a diverse range of practice areas, including VA Disability claims. We practice with care and compassion, building strong relationships based on constant communication, trust, and a dedication to the truth. Caring for you is our goal, and winning is just how we show it. If you have been injured as a result of negligence, contact us to set up your free consultation with an attorney at Wettermark Keith by calling us at (877) 715-9300 or contacting us through our online form.

Frequently Asked Questions

Vietnam War veterans may be eligible for a range of benefits, including medical care, disability compensation, pension, education and training, home loans, and life insurance. Medical care benefits can include treatment for both service-related and non-service-related conditions. Disability compensation can be awarded for illnesses or injuries incurred during military service, including those related to Agent Orange exposure. Pension benefits, education and training benefits, home loans, and life insurance benefits are just a few of the VA programs Vietnam veterans may be eligible for.

Yes, surviving spouses of veterans who died due to Agent Orange-related illnesses are eligible for benefits. The Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) program provides a tax-free monetary benefit to the surviving spouse of a veteran who died from a service-related injury or illness, including those related to Agent Orange exposure. Additionally, after filing for DIC benefits, surviving spouses may also be eligible for health care benefits through the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) and may receive educational assistance through the Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance (DEA) program. Eligibility requirements and benefit amounts vary based on individual circumstances.

There is no fixed average compensation for Agent Orange as the amount awarded depends on various factors, including the extent of the veteran's disability and the severity of their illness or condition. The VA determines the compensation amount based on a rating system, with payments ranging from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars per month. The compensation may cover medical treatment, disability benefits, and other expenses related to the veteran's condition. Additionally, surviving spouses and dependents of veterans who died from Agent Orange-related illnesses may also be eligible for compensation.

Key documents that can support an Agent Orange claim include the veteran's military service records showing service in Vietnam or another area where Agent Orange was used, medical evidence linking the veteran's illness to Agent Orange exposure, and if possible, results of an Agent Orange Registry exam.

The VA uses a list of 'presumptive' diseases, or health conditions they presume are related to exposure to Agent Orange. Veterans who have these conditions and who served in Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, are eligible for benefits, as are their spouses and dependent children after their death.

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