VA benefits office seeks all vets exposed to Agent Orange

Published: Aug. 15, 2015 at 10:18 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 25, 2015 at 10:18 PM EDT
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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, the first U.S. combat troops arrived there in March of 1965.
About 58,000 Americans died in the war. Now, many who survived, are fighting diseases the government now recognizes were caused by a toxic chemical used in the jungle war zone.     
A local VA leader tells WIS she has a renewed mission to make sure veterans know about Agent Orange and that they may qualify for benefits.         
A list of diseases, cancers, and illnesses many of them common have "presumptively" been linked to the toxic chemical, Agent Orange.
Leanne Weldin said too many Vietnam Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, many of them in South Carolina, don't realize they're eligible for benefits.
Purple Heart recipient Carl Lopez was wounded in Vietnam.

"Images of helicopters; images of my friends being killed, die, or wounded; and the typical war scenario scenes that you see,” Lopez said. “I remembers all of those. I was serving with the 101st Airborne Division, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry. I was still 18. That was a long time ago. Mortar shrapnel in the back and a bullet wound in my left leg."
But Lopez said he was also exposed to something else since proven dangerous, Agent Orange.

"Agent Orange is a chemical. It's a defoliant, right. It was dropped by aircraft and helicopters, mainly sprayed from a C-130 aircraft, and what it did was kill the dense jungle. It had a distinct odor to it. You could smell it," Lopez explained.
Since 2010, the Department of Veterans Affairs has recognized a list of diseases, cancers, and illnesses caused by the chemical. Now the Columbia VA Regional Office is making a renewed push to make sure everyone knows benefits are available to veterans sickened by Agent Orange.

"We have a list of diseases that we're allowed to pay presumptively, meaning that if the veteran has, say, Parkinson's disease right now, and they served in Vietnam 45 years ago,” Regional Office Director Leanne Weldin said. "Just tell us you have Parkinson's disease right now, and we can service connect it and pay it as a disability compensation payment to you each month."
Weldin said the list includes a variety of illnesses, many of them are common: type 2 diabetes, prostate cancer, respiratory cancers, all chronic B-call leukemias, Hodkin's diseases, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Parkinson's disease, Ischemic heart disease, and others.
"There are a lot of Vietnam veterans who aren't aware of the Agent Orange presumptive diseases. Some of them choose not to go to the VA for their treatment or some of them have never thought to apply," Weldin said.
The VA says surviving spouses, dependent children and dependent parents of veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and died as the result of diseases related to the exposure may be eligible for benefits.
Weldin said it's an expedited claims process since the illnesses are "presumed" to be connected to Agent Orange, meaning Vietnam Veterans don't have to prove an association between their medical problems and their military service.
Any veteran or family member who might fit any of these categories should call the Regional Office at 1-800-827-1000, visit in-person, or file a claim at

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