Nearly three dozen rugged C-123 transport planes formed the backbone of the U.S. military’s campaign to spray Agent Orange over jungles hiding enemy soldiers during the Vietnam War. And many of the troops who served in the conflict have been compensated for diseases associated with their exposure to the toxic defoliant.
But after the war, some of the planes were used on cargo missions in the United States. Now a bitter fight has sprung up over whether those in the military who worked, ate and slept in the planes after the war should also be compensated. Two U.S. senators are now questioning the Department of Veterans Affairs’ assertions that any postwar contamination on the planes was not high enough to be linked to disease.
Complicating the debate is that few of the planes remain to be tested. In 2010, the Air Force destroyed 18 of the Vietnam-era aircraft in part because of concerns about potential liability for Agent Orange, according to Air Force memos documenting the destruction.
Citing tests done on some of the aircraft in the 1990s, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the ranking Republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), have asked the VA’s Office of Inspector General to review whether the department is “inappropriately” denying disability compensation to veterans who claim they were sickened by postwar contamination.