Brown Water, Blue Water: Agent Orange Never Cared

Print Email

The herbicide dioxin defoliant Agent Orange (or any one of the other five "colors") did not discriminate. You breathed, ate or drank it and you exposed yourself to one of the many illnesses associated with exposure to Agent Orange. And we Vietnam Veterans did, regrettably, breathe it, eat it and drink it -- this, by just being "there." But for years the question was, as far as the VA was concerned, were did one have to be in order to have been exposed to Agent Orange. In other words -- where was "there." We, Vietnam Veterans, knew the answer from day-one. Unfortunately, it took the VA a little bit longer -- and then only when they were "told" the answer.

About The Herbicide Dioxin Defoliants Used in Vietnam

19,395,369 million gallons were sprayed during a 3,735-day contiguous period, covering 10,102 square miles.

In terms perhaps a little more comprehendible, over a 10 year 2 month-plus period 5,193 gallons a day, each and every day, were sprayed such that each covered square mile received 1,920 gallons.

Having difficulty in getting your head around 5,193 gallons. Common "milk" gallon containers are one foot wide. There are 5,280 feet in a mile.

Perhaps a square mile isn't that meaningful. There are 640 acres in a square mile, with each acre a little less than 209 feet per side. Therefore, each acre received three of its very own gallons of herbicide. And if a square a little less than 209 feet on a side doesn't do it for you, a football field (including end-zones) is about 1 and 1/3 acres and would have received four gallons of the "colors" of your choice.

These six "colors" and their percentage of the total-sprayed are: Orange, 60%; White, 27%; Blue 11%; Purple, less than 1%; Pink, less than 1%, and; Green, less than 1%.

About Brown Water and Blue Water Navy

Brown Water Navy is a naval term referring to those of us Navy types who serve on the small gunboats and patrol boats used in rivers. In my case it was with River Squadron 57 on PBRs, (Patrol Boats River). They were a fiberglass hull and water jet drive boat that drew only two feet of water fully loaded, could turn around in its own length, and come to a stop from full speed in a few boat lengths. They were 32 feet long with a 12 foot beam, could reach speeds of 28 knots, and had a crew of four. A PBR is the setting for much of the action in the film Apocalypse Now.

Blue Water Navy refers to those Navy types who serve on ocean going craft. In my case it was a supply ship, the USS Sylvania (AFS-2).

About Agent Orange Related Benefits

Dioxin, the "active" chemical ingredient of Agent Orange, is a known carcinogen. Any exposure to dioxin causes a statistically significant increase in the incidences of an ever increasing, VA recognized, list of illnesses.

This list of recognized or "presumptive" diseases is presumed to be related to an individual's exposure to dioxin from service in Vietnam, and is still being debated and expanded to this day. As I right this, if you diagnosed with chloracne, Type 2 diabetes, Hodgkin's disease, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, porphyria cutanea tarda, respiratory cancers, soft-tissue sarcoma, acute and subacute peripheral neuropathy and prostate cancer, you will receive certain disability benefit compensation payments. There is also a special category for birth defects of Veteran's children, most notably spina bifida.

"There" Is There and Also Nearby, But Perhaps Just For Now

Notwithstanding previous criteria, in 2002 the VA "decided" that unless Navy members actually "set foot" in Vietnam they were not entitled to any of the benefits associated with -- presumed to have been caused by -- exposure to Agent Orange. It didn't matter if your vessel came within rock-throwing distance of the shore. If you never got off the boat, you didn't qualify. I guess the VA also presumed all shoreline breezes always blew from offshore.

On August 16, 2006, all that changed. The United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims ruled that a Veteran who served in the waters off the shores of Vietnam may reasonably be presumed to have suffered exposure to dioxin and therefore is qualified to receive presumptive benefit payments.

This is a sensible decision.

The spraying of Agent Orange, particularly along the shorelines, was far from an exact science. As hundreds of thousands of gallons were misted from the cargo holds of C-123s, the winds often picked up the Agent Orange mist and swept it hundreds of yards out over water and onto your ship and into your face.

Unfortunately, the VA can be expected to appeal this case and to lobby Congress to retroactively apply the "set foot" requirement once again.

Veterans who can take advantage of the facts and circumstances of this case should do so immediately before any new VA regulations are promulgated and before Congress can act.

--- Regards, Walt Schmidt