Vietnam-era veterans who served in Guam were exposed to Agent Orange, report says

A helicopter sprays herbicide over jungle.
Photo credit Department of Veterans Affairs

Updated research aims to help Vietnam-era veterans who served in Guam ill from Agent Orange exposure obtain disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Last year, two veterans groups published a white paper citing research to support that "as likely as not," veterans who served on Guam from 1962 to 1975 met the legal standard for exposure to Agent Orange and other "dioxin-containing herbicides." Now, the groups -- National Veterans Legal Services Program and Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law -- have released updated research expanding that timeline to include veterans who served on Guam from 1958 to 1980.

"The conclusion was based on an exhaustive review conducted over nearly two years of government, private, archival, and oral history evidence of herbicide use in Guam during the Vietnam era," the groups said in a news release about the research. The February update includes new developments and information on herbicide use in Guam gathered after the original paper was published in May 2020, including "an EPA-directed soil sampling report published in July 2020 and recently issued decisions of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals."

Tens of thousands of American troops served on Guam during the Vietnam War and, at the height of bombing operations during the conflict, more than three-quarters of all U.S. B-52 aircraft available for operations were based in Guam. The rapid buildup of U.S. airpower in Guam, along with climate conditions on the island, housing and water shortages and other challenges, prompted military leaders to work to prevent fires and control tropical growth using the herbicides.

“This white paper confirms the reports of countless veterans who served in Guam but whose claims the VA has wrongly rejected,” Bart Stichman, executive director of NVLSP, said at the time of the initial report's release. “It is time that the VA acknowledge the strong evidence of toxic herbicide exposure in Guam and care for veterans exposed.”

Since then, thousands of those veterans have experienced health conditions linked to Agent Orange and other herbicide exposure, but have not qualified for VA benefits.

“Service members have said for years that they sprayed Agent Orange and other toxic herbicides all across Guam,” said Brian Moyer, a Marine veteran who served in Guam from 1974 to 1976 and leads the group Agent Orange Survivors of Guam, a section of Military Veterans Advocacy. “So many of us were exposed and, sadly, many have already passed away—with no recognition from the VA.”

Widespread exposure is supported by evidence including contamination tests by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Defense Department in the 1980s and 1990s, according to the report.

Thousands of veterans exposed to Agent Orange now await VA to implement a policy to add three additional diseases to the list of covered conditions, including bladder cancer, Parkinson's-like symptoms and hypothyroidism that Congress passed as part of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. VA had delayed those decisions repeatedly, so lawmakers took steps to force the department to begin covering those conditions.

Left out of that policy, however, was hypertension, or high blood pressure, another disease linked to Agent Orange that veterans, advocates and some lawmakers pushed to have included. Some members of Congress, including Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Montana, have said they will continue to push for legislation to establish a VA presumption for Agent Orange-linked hypertension.

Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.

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