Every March 29th, our country recognizes the service and sacrifice of all Vietnam Veterans. The United States military involvement in the Vietnam War officially began on August 5th, 1964 and ended by Presidential Proclamation on May 7th, 1975. The first casualty in Vietnam occurred on July 8th, 1959 and by the end of the war, there were over 58,000 U.S. military members who lost their lives and 153,000 who were wounded. There were also 766 prisoners of war of which 114 died in captivity.
The toll the war took on Vietnam Veterans did not end after May 7th, 1975, however. Today hundreds of thousands of Vietnam Veterans suffer from the after effects of their service. From mental health diseases and PTSD to Agent Orange exposure, these delayed wounds of war can be just as debilitating as if they had received them directly on the battlefield. With the unpopularity of the Vietnam War and poorly understood or non-existent medical diagnoses specific to these veterans, most chose not to seek treatment or were initially turned down for services desperately needed. These Vietnam Veterans faced a daunting uphill fight for many years consisting of bureaucracy, mounds of paperwork, denials of claims, and appeals. Since the burden of proof falls to the veteran in proving service connected VA claims, and with the lack of organized military and medical records, the veteran was often times left to feel dejected and helpless, unable to prove their case.
Over the years the VA began to recognize the necessity to provide these men and women who served in Vietnam the benefits they deserve. After years of advocacy from the Veterans Service Organizations, Congress enacted into law the Agent Orange Act of 1991. This legislation empowered the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to declare certain maladies “presumptive” to exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin and enabled Vietnam Veterans, as well as some Veterans who served along the demilitarized zone in Korea in the 1960s, to receive treatment and compensation for certain health conditions. Recently, Navy Personnel who served on designated ships around Vietnam and certain Air Bases in Thailand may be considered for compensation. These health conditions are currently Diabetes Mellitus (type 2), Ischemic Heart Disease, Prostate Cancer, All chronic B-cell Leukemias, Hodgkin’s Disease, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, Parkinson’s Disease, Respiratory Cancers, Soft Tissue Sarcomas, Chloracne, AL Amyloidosis, Acute and Subacute Peripheral Neuropathy, and certain birth defects of children of women Vietnam Veterans.
If a Vietnam Veteran has any of the above Agent Orange related medical issues, or if they suffer from a mental health disease such as PTSD, anxiety or depression, they may be eligible for VA disability compensation which can come in the form of monthly monetary benefits, access to healthcare, and other veterans’ benefits. Other medical issues not on the Agent Orange presumptive list, such as hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing of the ears), or any non-combat related injuries that occurred while active duty may also be submitted for a service connected disability through the VA.
Furthermore, the Veterans Health Administration has given special priority to those who served in Vietnam. All veterans who served “boots on ground” in Vietnam (haven been awarded both the Vietnam Service Medal and Vietnam Campaign Medal), are automatically eligible for VA healthcare in priority group 6, regardless of financial means or health status. VA healthcare can provide essential medical and mental health services for these veterans.
Every veteran is different and what one veteran is entitled to another may not be, so it is important to talk with someone that can assist you through this process. The Washburn County Veterans Service Office encourages all Vietnam Veterans to contact them to discuss any healthcare and disability benefits they have rightly earned.