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Background information-approximate time line


The following information was compiled in 1979. It was designed to bring an awareness of AGENT ORANGE and related herbicides to the American public.

Herbicides were developed during the Second World War, initial work being done at the University of Chicago and later moved to Fort Detrick, Maryland. Although they were first considered for military use at the end of the War in the Pacific, the first application (of 2-4-D) was for domestic weed control in the US.

The first recorded military use took place in Malaysia in the 1950s where the British used 2-4-5-T to clear communication routes. The first US field tests were conducted in Puerto Rico, Texas, and Fort Drum in New York (1959).

In 1960 the South Vietnamese government requested that the U.S. government conduct trials of these herbicides for use against guerrilla forces. Further tests were conducted in Thailand by Fort Detrick personnel before the chemicals were given to the RVN.

The herbicides involved were known by their code names, Orange, White and Blue. There were several others, such as Purple.

AGENT ORANGE is a 1-124-1 mixture by weight of the n-butyl esters of 2-4-5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2-4-5-T) and 2-4-dichloro-phenoxyacetic acid (2-4-D).

Agent White is a 3-882-1 mixture by weight of tri-iso-propanolamine salts of 2-4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2-4-D) and 4-amino 3-5-6-trichloropicolinic acid (pico-lorum).

Agent Blue is a 2-663-1 mixture by weight of na-dimethyl arsenate (na cacodylate) and dimethyl arsenic (cacodylic acid). Agents

Orange and White are used as defoliants and Agent Blue as a desiccant.

Agent Blue was produced by Ansul Chemical Company which has divested itself of this line prior to selling the company. Agents Orange and White are still being produced. The most widely produced and dispensed of the herbicides in both Vietnam and the U.S. is AGENT ORANGE (2-4-5-T and 2-4-D).

Adverse effects of the chemical 2-4-5-T and its chemical precursors on the workers engaged in their production had been observed as early as 1949. At that time a Monsanto-owned plant manufacturing 2-4-5-T in Nitro, West Virginia, had an explosion, and 228 workers developed Chloracne.

Chloracne symptoms include skin eruptions on the face, neck, and back, shortness of breath, intolerance to cold, palpable and tender liver, a loss of sensation in the extremities, damage to peripheral nerves, fatigue, nervousness, irritability, insomnia, loss of libido and vertigo.

Chloracne was also found in 1953 among the male workers and many of their wives, children and pets at a BASF (Badischer Anilin & Soda Fabrik)-owned 2-4-5-T plant at Ludwigshaften am Rhein in Germany.

The factory experienced an explosion months after the appearance of Chloracne among the workers. In medical examinations following the explosion, some workers were found to have severely damaged internal organs including the liver. Heightened blood pressure, myocardial degeneration, severe depression, memory and concentration disturbances were also observed. Fifteen years later some of these workers were still suffering from Chloracne and its symptoms despite treatment and no subsequent exposure. One death from intestinal sarcoma was attributed to the explosion

In 1963 another explosion occurred in a 2-4-5-T factory owned by Philips Duphar in Amsterdam, Holland. Fifty workers developed Chloracne and suffered internal damage and serious psychological disturbances as a result, and the factory was closed. In 1973 the plant was still so contaminated with Dioxin that it had to be dismantled, embedded in concrete, and buried at sea.

Dow Chemical, the largest producer of AGENT ORANGE in the U.S. experienced an outbreak of Chloracne among its workers in 1964 in one of their 2-4-5-T manufacturing plants. Over seventy workers were affected, 12 of them severely.

Dow's director of its Midland Division, Dr. Benjamin Holder, described the symptoms as fatigue, lassitude, depression, blackheads (prevalent on the face, neck, and back), and weight loss. Heavy exposure, Dr. Holder said, could lead to internal organ damage and nervous system disorders.

In 1970, Julius F. Johnson, Director of Research and Development, appearing be-fore the Hart Sub-Committee of the U.S. Congress, described Chloracne as "a skin disorder mostly prevalent of the face, neck, and back. It is similar in experience to severe acne of the kind suffered by teenagers".

Dow ran its own study of the effects of ORANGE using 220 workers and 4,600 controls. The range of exposure to 2-4-0 was 30-40/mg/do. Ten of the men were karyotyped, and no rearrangement of genetic material was reported. The 220 men were exposed to 2-8/mg/do of 2-4-5-T. Fifty two men were karyotyped negatively. No difference between the study group and the control group was reported.

Dow's testing indicated that a contaminant of 2-4-5-T (Dioxin) was responsible for the Chloracne and illness experienced by its workers. They conducted tests utilizing animals on 2-4-5-T with varying amounts of 2-3-7-8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin.

At levels of 27±8 the chemical was shown to be toxic and fatal to the animals. Cleft palates were observed in further tests. The results were not repeated with 2-4-5-T without the contaminant. Dioxin was found to be one of the most toxic substances known, a fatal dose being 0.022-0.045a in rats and 0.0006 in guinea pigs, LD-50 as milligrams per body weight.

Between 1965 and 1969 a 2-4-5-T production plant near Prague, Czechoslovakia, developed leaks in its processing area. Workers developed Chloracne and exhibited weight loss, libido diminution and insomnia.

Maximum symptoms were observed about one to two years after the initial exposure but lasted over eight years in some of the exposed workers. Several workers died of severe liver damage, and workers' families also became sick. Contaminated equipment was buried in a mine shaft.

Other studies of workers exposed to 2-4-D and 2-4-5-T were conducted by Festisov (1966), Long (1969), Poland (1971), Sundell (1972) and Piper (1973).

These studies showed exposed workers exhibiting symptoms including fatigue, headaches, loss of appetite, stomach and kidney pain, upper respiratory distress, decreased hearing, smell and neurological responses, high serum albumin values, skin and eye irritations and concentrated TCDD (Dioxin) levels in body fat and liver tissue. The studies inconclusive epidemiological results must be re-examined in light of their design deficiencies, such as lack of use of control groups (Festisov, Poland), insufficient follow-up period in a retrospective study (Sundell) and lack of longitudinal studies which would provide adequate evidence of temporary and long-range effects (NAS). Further tests showed TCDD, the contaminant in 2-4-5-T, to be an extremely toxic agent with a slow effect rate and diverse symptomatology including edema, necrotic changes of the liver, gastric hyperplasia and ulceration, hemmoroglus of gastrointestinal tract and other organs, atrophy of the kidneys, thymus and other lymphoid organs and tissues. Later, symptoms appear to lead to decreased immune responses.

AGENT ORANGE (contaminated with Dioxin) and Agent White were authorized for use in Vietnam in November 1961, to improve road and waterway visibility and clear camp perimeters.

Later, Agent Blue was authorized to destroy crops and clear areas suspected of harboring enemy base camps or supply routes. The U.S. Air Force created the 309th Air Commando Squadron to conduct the spraying. The operation, originally known as Hades, and became known as Operation Ranch Hand.

In the spring of 1962 the South Vietnamese military conducted large-scale tests of herbicides along 70 miles of Highway 15. In the summer, further tests were conducted using 2-4-D at 1.5 gallons/acre and 2-4-5-T at 3.3 gallons/acre. The herbicides used in Vietnam were applied mostly by twin engine C-123 Provider Transports (Fairchild Hiller) equipped with 3785.1 tanks and an internal defoliant dispenser (Hayes Inter-national) with 36 high-pressure nozzles distributed on three booms.

Normal spray time was two minutes, but a full load could be dumped in 30 seconds. Missions usually consisted of three to five aircraft flying in a staggered lateral formation. Single plane runs were known as sorties. Helicopters, UH-1 Huey (Bell Aerospace), trucks, boats and hand spraying equipment were also used to dispense the herbicides in Vietnam.

Targets were selected by U.S. or Vietnamese officers, approved by provincial chiefs, the Vietnamese Army general staff, the U.S. Military Assistance Command and the American Ambassador.

During this time, Air America also sprayed defoliants for the CIA in combat operations against Thai insurgents on the Isthmus of Kra. The drift of herbicides involved in these operations was estimated at an average of 20%.

AGENT ORANGE, the main herbicide dispensed in this period, was applied at up to 25 times the rate of use in the U.S. Entire tank loads were also jettisoned over one area.

Schedules of the herbicide spraying missions were recorded on HERBS tapes, a computerized record of time, place, geographic location of beginning, end and flight line of the mission, amount and type of herbicide and the military purpose of the operation. The tapes cover the period from August 1965 to February 1971. The HERBS tapes were studied for accuracy by the NAS Committee, which traveled to Vietnam, and were found to contain inaccuracies. Even so, they may offer one source to check individual dose exposure in the period covered when 85% of the missions were flown.

As early as 1964, while the spraying was increasing in Vietnam, reports circulated of increased miscarriages stillbirths and birth defects among exposed Vietnamese women and animals. Because of the war conditions collecting data to corroborate this was difficult.

Records from 1970 for Saigon's leading maternity hospital showed a monthly average of 140 miscarriages and 150 premature births in 2,800 pregnancies, but the hospital would not disclose whether or not this was an increase.

In 1966 the U.S. government started studies on the teratogenic effects of 2-4-5-T. These studies were conducted by Bionetics Research Laboratories of Bethesda, Maryland, for the National Cancer Institute.

The findings were released in 1969. Rats and mice used in the study were given 21.5 mg/kg doses of 2-4-5-T during early gestation. Almost all the offspring were born dead or with cleft palates, no eyes, cystic kidneys and enlarged livers. At 4.6 mg/kg, 39% of the offspring were born deformed. Based on these findings Dr. Lee Du Bridge, Presidential Advisor, said that the use of the chemical in populated areas and on food crops should be restricted.

Dow objected to the findings saying the sample of the 2-4-5-T was used unrepresentatively because of an abnormally high amount of TCDD (Dioxin). As a result, new tests were ordered by Dr. Burger, Dr. Du Bridge’s technical assistant, and 2-4-5-T was left in use.

Other tests were run by Dr. Jackie Verett of the FDA Toxicology Lab in Washington, D.C., Dr. Matthew Meselson of Harvard, the National Institute. Dr. Verett used a .50 parts per million Dioxin solution obtained from chemicals used in Vietnam in chicks and found resultant cysts, necrotic livers, slipped tendons, cleft palates and beak deformities.

She then used a .25 parts per trillion solution and observed the same effects. Further tests of 2-4-D and 2-4-5-T without Dioxin still produced dead and deformed offspring. English tests had demonstrated AGENT ORANGE to contain as many as 17 or more contaminates.

Dr. Meselson was the head of an American Association for Advanced Science project. His concern was Dioxin activity and the unknown results of its behavior. "The tetrachloro-dioxin re-presents just one of the 12 or 13 ways the chlorine atoms arrange themselves on a benzene ring to form Dioxin molecules. How do we know about hexa, hepta and octychlors or about how persistent the tetrachlor itself is? Moreover, I am very concerned about the Dioxin that might be formed by unreacted trichlorphenol (2-4-5-T’s precursor) when the product is exposed to heat. If it were taken up by plants or wood and these were burned, you’d get more Dioxin. Finally, I’m bothered by the bizarre mental effects suffered by German workers making 2-4-5-T. I say, when in doubt, stop it."

The National Institute of Environmental Health Ser-vices Study used samples of 2-4-5-T which were far less contaminated with Dioxin than the 2-4-5-T used in the Bionetics Study. The results showed 2-4-5-T to have significant teratogenic effects on the study of animals.

Based on this study, on April 15, 1970, Dr. Jesse L. Steinfield, Surgeon General, and David Packard, Secretary of Defense, announced government action limiting the use of 2-4-5-T in the U.S. and suspending its use in Vietnam.

The National Cancer Study conducted by Courtney showed 2-4-5-T adversely affecting the development and viability of mouse and rat fetuses.

"I suggest that the teratogenicity of 2-4-5-T is such that even its use in such apparently innocuous domestic matters as clearing brush near power lines is undesirable. Such chemicals could find their way into water supplies and could be ingested in teratogenic-doses", (statement of Dr. Arthur Galston, Yale University, December, 1969, to the Sub-Committee on National Security Policy and Scientific Development of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives).

Autopsies of 600 reindeer in northern Sweden which had consumed foliage sprayed with AGENT ORANGE showed a significant residue of the herbicide in the kidneys and liver of the deceased animals.

The Piper Study (1973) also showed Dioxin concentration in the liver and body fat of exposed workers up to ten times the normal concentration.

In 1975 the CDC in Atlanta studied AGENT ORANGE and issued a report showing that exposed animals suffered appetite loss, vascular lesions, Chloracne and gastric ulcers.

More recent tests indicate Dioxin may be concentrated in fatty tissue and released into the blood stream after the initial exposure. Vietnamese epidemiologists have indicated a four-fold increase in liver Cancer in Vietnam in the last ten years.

Despite these tests and world-wide evidence of the effects of AGENT ORANGE, it has remained in use on rice crops in Arkansas, range land in the West and Southwest, national forests and along railroad and power lines. In 1973 Matthew Meselson and Dr. Robert Boughman refined an analytical system for detecting the presence of Dioxin in parts per trillion instead of billion.

Using their system, they found Dioxin residues in Vietnamese crustaceans, indicating that Dioxin had entered the food chain as a result of earlier 2-4-5-T use.

Dow's scientists continued to maintain that 2-4-5-T, when used as directed, presents inconsequential hazards to the environment, animals and man.

The evidence shows that AGENT ORANGE was dispensed in Vietnam in amounts far in excess of previous use; thus, the exposure of U.S. soldiers and the Vietnamese was not as directed. Soldiers in Vietnam sprayed one another with AGENT ORANGE in spray fights as they were told the chemical was harmless.

While U.S. government departments were and were not dealing with 2-4-5-T, on July 10, 1976, another factory had an explosion. The factory, located in Seveso, Lombardy, Italy, was owned by ICMESA with a Swiss parent company.

The explosion produced a cloud of Dioxin which settled over several adjacent communities. The people exposed became nauseated, experienced eye and throat irritations, developed burn-like sores on exposed skin, headaches, dizziness and diarrhea -- the same symptoms recorded by exposed Vietnamese and Cambodian populations. In the next two days, small animals in the area began to die. Most of the small animals in Zone A of the exposed area died or had to be destroyed. Post mortems showed that they died of Dioxin poisoning and had extensive liver damage.

Because of the publicity on the teratogenicity of Dioxin, abortions were made available to the exposed women.

Studies of the situation at the ICMESA plant revealed that Dioxin was probably escaping periodically from the plant over a two-year period prior to the explosion. Two and a half months after the explosion, children and young people began to develop Chloracne.

A year later 130 people had confirmed Chloracne. Symptoms included nervousness, irritability, loss of appetite and sexual drive. Spontaneous abortions appeared to double; the level of birth defects could not be determined because of the abortions. In 1977 it was discovered that 280 children in an area north of the contaminated area were suffering from Chloracne.

Deaths among workers exposed to Dioxin contamination should be examined, as they are among the earliest exposed, and evidence indicates delayed onset of fatal chronic conditions.

In 1958 a worker was assigned work on or near the reactor that was involved in the 1953 explosion in the Badischer Anilin & Soda Fabrik 2-4-5-T factory. The reactor had not been used since the explosion, and the worker used protective clothing which included a face mask. He removed the mask several times during the work. Four days later he was suffering from headaches and had developed hearing loss and Chloracne. Within six months he developed pancreatitis and an upper abdominal tumor. The man died three months later.

Another worker at the same plant who spent two hours working on the reactor wall in 1958 also developed a severe case of Chloracne. One year later a large x-ray opaque area appeared on one of his lungs. Five years after the initial exposure, the worker suffered acute psychosis and committed suicide.

Two British workers at the Coalite factory in Bolsover, England, (which had experienced an explosion in 1968) were exposed to cleaned equipment involved in the explosion three years earlier. Within a month both developed Chloracne. In the next year members of both their families also developed Chloracne.

The Philips Duphar plant in Amsterdam had the problem when workers tried to decontaminate the plant involved in the 1963 explosion six months later.

Although all but one of the workers wore deep-sea diving suits and industrial facemasks, nine of the men contracted Chloracne, and three of them died within the next two years. The worker who was not as well protected was still being treated in 1976 for severe effects and was unable to work.

Studies of these and other exposed workers’ morbidity and mortality data would seem essential to construct an overview of the epidemiology of 2-4-5-T exposure, especially to help establish risk factors for exposed populations.

Studies in animals are also being conducted. Dr. James Allen, at the University of Wisconsin, has been running studies on the effects of dioxin-contaminated food on nonhuman primates. This seems particularly efficacious in light of recent evidence that rodents often used in medical research seem to be subject to inherent viruses which could distort test results.

Dr. Allen's studies with animals indicate that dioxin persists and accumulates in the tissue of primates. In his rodent studies Dr. Allen found a significant increase in the development of neoplasm's suggesting the carcinogenic potential of the compound TCDD.

Beef cattle grazing on western ranges sprayed with 2-4-5-T a year earlier were found, in 1974, to have sixty parts per trillion Dioxin in their fatty tissue, a significant amount.

Dr. Meselson, who has continued his studies at Harvard, has examined the milk of women exposed to the herbicide in Texas and Oregon, and the results seemed to indicate the presence of Dioxin in parts per trillion in some of their milk. Both these results and the cattle tests indicate that Dioxin, one of the most toxic substances known to man, has entered the human food chain.

The evidence also indicates that the herbicide AGENT ORANGE (2-4-D + 2-4-5-T + contaminants, especially TCDD) has both teratogenic and carcinogenic potential for exposed animals and humans. The teratogenic effects may be checked in cases where pregnant women are exposed, but evidence in Vietnam indicates that the mother may suffer chromatine or chromosomal damage following exposure and pass this damage on to subsequently conceived children. One of the complaints of Vietnam veterans is the high incidence of birth deformities (including monsters) present in their children.

Karyotyping should be done on these veterans and their offspring and all birth defects recorded. (The U.S. has no national register for recording birth defects.)

The carcinogenic potential of 2-4-5-T, or AGENT ORANGE, will be harder to ascertain as it involves the development of chronic disease with diverse symptomatology over an undetermined and lengthy amount of time.

The symptomatology developed by populations exposed to AGENT ORANGE and its components, 2-4-D, 2-4-5-T and contaminants, has been demonstrated around the world over a lengthy period of time. Further examination of the teratogenic and carcinogenic effects have been conducted in different animal experiments.

However, no serious epidemiological study has been done in this country, and the government, for example the VA, has used this to disclaim causality. The argument used is that there is no scientifically proven causality, but no one has designed a study to attempt to establish such a correlation in humans. Dow Chemical, one of the largest producers of AGENT ORANGE and White, has conducted a considerable amount of research, especially on the unavoidable contaminant Dioxin in AGENT ORANGE.

Their most recent conclusion revealed by an 18-member task force after several months of study was that Dioxin is present everywhere in the environment where combustion occurs, and Dow went on to argue against zero effluence limits for Dioxins which the EPA and FDA are interested in.

Dow still argues that these Dioxin levels are so low as to be harmless, especially since they are airborne rather than transmitted through the food chain. The government seems to be moving toward shifting the burden of proof away from itself to the producers with irrefutable defense papers. EPA toxicologist, Lyman Condie, says that this

On March 11, 1979, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took unprecedented steps against the chemical. In the first such emergency ban ever, the EPA ordered the immediate halt to most uses of the herbicide 2, 4,5 T which contains Dioxin, and a similar product used for weather control known as Silvex.

The emergency suspension action was temporary while further facts were gathered, but it was the most drastic measure the EPA could take under the law.

The EPA said it was acting on significant new evidence linking the herbicide 2, 4, 5-T with miscarriages in women in Oregon.



Current & Other Possible Disease's 

Diseases recognized by the VA as connected to Agent Orange and the VA’s Length of Time Requirements - (When symptoms of the disease have to appear and result in a disability at least 10% disabling in order to qualify for benefits):

Types of cancer -
Time Requirements

-- Cancer of the bronchus (within 30 years of last day the veteran served in Vietnam)

-- Cancer of the larynx (within 30 years of last day the veteran served in Vietnam)

-- Cancer of the lung (within 30 years of last day the veteran served in Vietnam)

-- Cancer of the trachea (within 30 years of last day the veteran served in Vietnam)

-- Prostate cancer (no time requirement)

-- Hodgkin’s disease (no time requirement)

-- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (no time requirement)

-- Multiple myeloma (no time requirement)

-- Soft-tissue sarcoma (Time requirements ) 

-- Adult fibrosarcoma (no time requirement)

-- Alveolar soft part sarcoma (no time requirement)

-- Angiosarcoma (no time requirement)

-- Clear cell sarcoma of aponeuroses (no time requirement)

-- Clear cell sarcoma of tendons (no time requirement)

-- Congenital and infantile fibrosarcoma (no time requirement)

-- Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (no time requirement)

-- Ectomesenchymoma (no time requirement)

-- Epithelioid malignant leiomysarcoma (no time requirement)

-- Epithelioid malignant schwannoma (no time requirement)

-- Epethelioid sarcoma (no time requirement)

-- Extraskeletal Ewing’s sarcoma (no time requirement)

-- Hemangiosarcoma (no time requirement)

-- Infantile fibrosarcoma (no time requirement)

-- Leiomysarcoma (no time requirement)

-- Lipsosarcoma (no time requirement)

-- Lymphangiosarcoma (no time requirement)

-- Malignant fibrous histiocytoma (no time requirement)

-- Malignant giant cell tumor of tendon sheath (no time requirement)

-- Malignant glandular schwannoma (no time requirement)

-- Malignant glomus tumor (no time requirement)

-- Malignant hemangiopericytoma (no time requirement)

-- Malignant mesenchymoma (no time requirement)

-- Malignant schwannoma with rhabdomyoblastic proliferating (systemic)
angiendotheliomatosis (no time requirement)

-- Rhabdomyosarcoma (no time requirement)

-- Synovial sarcoma (no time requirement)

Diseases other than cancer -
Time Requirements 

-- Peripheral neuropathy (acute and subacute) (within months of exposure and cured within two years after symptoms first show up)

-- Chloracne (within one year of last day the veteran served in Vietnam)

-- Porphyria cutanea tarda (within one year of last day the veteran served in Vietnam)

Diseases other than cancer –
No Requirements

-- Diabetes - Type II - Adult - (no time Requirement)

Disabilities in children of Vietnam veterans -
Time Requirements

Spina bifida (child must have been conceived after Veteran first arrived in Vietnam)




William A. Buckingham, Jr., Ph.D.
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Clicking on the numbers highlighted as links in the text will take you to the corresponding endnote.  From within the endnotes, clicking on the number will bring you back to the place in the text where the endnote appears.  Following the endnotes is a brief list of internet resources and information about how to contact the author.

Of these terms related to the Vietnam War, which one do you think would be recognized by the most people today?

I wouldn't bet against Agent Orange as the winner of this poll.  It has been 30 years since the last U.S. Air Force herbicide flight in Southeast Asia, yet the controversy over these missions and their aftereffects continues.  The widespread use of herbicides in Southeast Asia was a unique military operation, and examining the decisions which led to the initiation, expansion, and eventual termination of these spray flights may provide insights about the larger war of which they were a part.  The history of this operation may also reveal a useful pattern for anticipating the course of events that may follow the introduction of some other unconventional tool of war in a future conflict.  

The term "Operation Ranch Hand" was the military code name for spraying herbicides from U.S. Air Force aircraft in Southeast Asia from 1962 through 1971.1 The name itself had no particular significance and was one of a number of similar code names such as "Farm Gate" and "Barn Door" that denoted specific military activities early in the Vietnam War. Ranch Hand aircraft were Fairchild C-123s, medium transports with twin piston engines, which later had two jet engines added for extra thrust. The Ranch Hand detachment began with six planes, dropped to two, and peaked at about 25 in 1969. It had several organizational designations over the years, but during the peak spraying years between 1966 and 1970, it was known as the 12th Air Commando Squadron and the 12th Special Operations Squadron. In terms of personnel and aircraft, Ranch Hand was a relatively minor part of overall Air Force operations in Southeast Asia.

Between 1962 and 1971, Ranch Hand sprayed about 19 million gallons of herbicide. Eleven million gallons of this total was Agent Orange.2 The spray fell mostly on the forests of South Vietnam, but some was used in Laos, and some killed crops to deprive Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops of food. The military purpose for using herbicides on non-cropland was to remove the vegetation cover used by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces for concealment. Along roads, canals, railroads, and other transportation arteries, Ranch Hand cleared a swath several hundred yards wide to make ambushes more difficult. In Laos, the herbicide removed the jungle canopy from the network of roads and trails used for infiltrating men and supplies, making them more vulnerable to attack from the air. Ranch Hand also cleared large areas of forest that hid sanctuaries and bases, thereby forcing the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong to move or risk discovery and attack. In all, Ranch Hand planes sprayed herbicide over about six million acres, not correcting for multiple coverage.3 

The herbicides Ranch Hand sprayed were common agricultural chemicals in wide use in the United States and other countries at that time. The most common ingredients in the herbicide mixtures were 2,4-D 4 and 2,4,5-T, phenoxy herbicides that act as growth regulators and cause destructive proliferation of tissues in plants when they are in a stage of active growth. Another plant growth regulator used was picloram. Cacodylic acid, an organic arsenic compound, killed crops by causing them to dry out.5 Various mixtures of these herbicides arrived in Vietnam in distinctive color-coded drums, the origin of the names "Agent Orange," "Agent Blue," "Agent White," etc. The primary focus in the continuing controversy over the human health effects of herbicides involves a dioxin impurity created as a byproduct in the manufacturing process of 2,4,5-T, one of the two herbicides in Agent Orange.

The Ranch Hand operation was not without historical precedent. U.S. aircraft conducted herbicide tests in World War II to see whether sprayed chemicals could be used to mark navigation points and defoliate jungle cover. An application considered but not employed in that war was destroying crops grown by isolated Japanese units on Pacific islands.6 Later, during the Malayan Emergency of the 1950s, British aircraft did spray herbicides on the isolated jungle plots of communist insurgents as part of a successful food denial program.7

In the 1950's, American military pilots in the United States worked to develop and improve herbicide delivery techniques and equipment.8 One successful experiment conducted at Camp Drum, New York, in 1959 foreshadowed what was to come later in Vietnam. Sugar maple foliage was obstructing the view of an artillery impact area, and ground access to cut down the trees was impossible because of unexploded shells. The Army Biological Warfare Laboratories sent Dr. James W. Brown, later involved in the earliest stages of the herbicide program in Vietnam, to Camp Drum. Helicopters sprayed the troublesome maple trees with a mixture of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, causing their leaves to dry and drop about one month later, and this greatly improved visibility.9 This experiment at Camp Drum in 1959 used the same chemicals for the same purpose for which Ranch Hand later sprayed them widely in Southeast Asia.

The Kennedy Administration inherited a deteriorating situation in Southeast Asia in 1961, and in its first months in office began to address what the United States might do to strengthen the Diem government in South Vietnam in its fight against the communist insurgency. One early approach was to investigate what "techniques and gadgets" from the reservoir of American technology might be useful in the counterinsurgency effort.10 Chemical herbicides for clearing "fire breaks" along South Vietnam's borders received specific mention as early as July 1961,11 and later that year American personnel using South Vietnamese aircraft conducted some very limited but successful tests in that country that helped to persuade President Diem to become a staunch supporter of both defoliation and crop destruction.12

A proposal to use U.S. aircraft in a more extensive defoliation and crop destruction operation received attention in Washington during the latter part of 1961. The Department of Defense favored such an operation, while at the same time recognizing the possibility of adverse international reactions. Perhaps because of this public relations risk, the Defense Department advocated initially only a selective defoliation program along key transportation routes, with the addition of crop destruction later, if at all.13 The Department of State did not object to a closely controlled and selective defoliation program and argued that such operations would not violate any rule of international law and could even be considered an accepted tactic of war, citing the Malayan precedent.14 On November 30, 1961, President John F. Kennedy personally approved in principle the start of Operation Ranch Hand,15 and for a year afterwards, all herbicide targets to be sprayed by U.S. aircraft had to receive specific Oval Office approval. It was not until late 1962 that President Kennedy delegated limited authority to order Ranch Hand defoliation missions to his ambassador and military commander in South Vietnam.16 MiloBCoghill.jpg (35917 bytes)

A Vietnamese officer observes Ssgt Milo B. Coghill operate a pump aboard a C-123 during one of the early defoliation missions in Vietnam.  Ssgt Coghill, along with Captain Fergus Groves, II, and Captain Robert D. Larson died in a crash during a Ranch Hand training mission on February 2, 1962, becoming the first Air Force fatalities in Vietnam.  Ranch Hand planes typically sprayed at an airspeed of 130 knots only 150 feet above the ground.

The decision to begin destroying crops with herbicides was longer in coming, even though President Diem was an early and enthusiastic advocate of crop destruction. He maintained that he knew where the Viet Cong crops were,17 and South Vietnamese officials had difficulty in understanding why the Americans wouldn't give them a readily-available chemical that would accomplish with much less effort what they were already doing by cutting, pulling, and burning. Although the Defense Department favored chemical crop destruction,18 several influential people in the State Department, notably Roger Hilsman and W. Averell Harriman, were opposed. They argued that there was no way to insure that only Viet Cong crops would be killed, and the inevitable mistakes would alienate the rural South Vietnamese people. Hilsman maintained that the use of this technology would enable the Viet Cong to argue that the U.S. represented "foreign imperialist barbarism,”19 and Harriman urged that crop destruction should be postponed to a later stage in the counterinsurgency struggle when the Viet Cong would not be so closely intermingled with the people.20

The pressure from Saigon continued, however, and on October 2, 1962, President Kennedy decided to allow restricted crop spraying to proceed.21 Until 1964, crop destruction operations were rare, and only South Vietnamese personnel and equipment conducted them. However, in the aftermath of the Tonkin Gulf incidents, the U.S. Ranch Hand detachment began to destroy crops. Because of the continuing sensitivity of crop destruction, Ranch Hand aircraft displayed temporary South Vietnamese markings when they flew these missions.22

Operation Ranch Hand expanded as the U.S. commitment to Vietnam deepened. Controls and limitations on spraying gradually relaxed, and new geographic areas were added. In late 1965, Ranch Hand began spraying the Ho Chi Minh Trail complex of roads and foot paths in southern and eastern Laos.23 The following year, occasional crop destruction in Laos became part of the Ranch Hand mission.24 In 1966 and 1967, Washington approved the spraying of herbicides in the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Vietnam.25 Ranch Hand's level of operations steadily increased and peaked in 1967 when the unit sprayed 1.7 million acres, 85% for defoliation and 15% for crop destruction.26

The early use of herbicides in Southeast Asia by U.S. forces did not produce the hostile international reaction that some had feared. After the first missions in early 1962, Radio Moscow, Radio Hanoi, and Radio Peking all broadcast condemnatory reports, but the reaction from foreign non-communist capitals was light.27 The first serious public relations problem over the use of herbicides did not surface until about a year later. A reporter named Richard Dudman wrote a series of articles on U.S. policy in Asia that appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and other newspapers in February 1963. One of these articles accused the U.S. and its South Vietnamese allies of using "dirty war" tactics against the Viet Cong, including spraying "poison" from Ranch Hand planes to destroy rice fields and roadside ambush cover.28 Dudman's article so disturbed Congressman Robert W. Kastenmeier of Wisconsin that he wrote President Kennedy and urged him to renounce the use of herbicides in Vietnam, calling them chemical weapons.  Kastenmeier questioned whether the survival of the Diem regime was worth compromising America’s moral principles.29 The Department of Defense responded to Kastenmeier's letter, contending that the herbicides being used in Vietnam were not chemical weapons and charging that the press and communist propaganda organs had distorted the facts about Operation Ranch Hand.30

There was another relatively serious incident of press criticism of Ranch Hand in May 1964. An article by Jim G. Lucas, a Scripps-Howard staff writer, charged that a Ranch Hand plane had accidentally sprayed the friendly village of Cha La in the Mekong Delta, destroying the rice and pineapples upon which the people depended for their livelihood.31 The Washington Post published the Lucas story and on the following day called editorially for an end to the use of herbicides in South Vietnam because they were totally unsuitable against guerrilla infiltrators living among a civilian population. Herbicides, the Post charged, were simply too unselective and non-discriminatory.32 An extensive military investigation conducted in the wake of the Cha La incident failed to substantiate the charges made by Lucas.33 At this point in the war, adverse publicity was unable to stop the expansion of Ranch Hand's activities, but these early stories and editorial comments were clear precursors of what was to follow a few years later.

The first official questioning at high levels of the wisdom of continuing chemical crop destruction seems to have been generated by a pair of RAND Corporation reports issued in October 1967. Based on interviews with a small sample of 206 former Viet Cong and non-Viet Cong civilians, RAND researchers concluded that destroying crops with herbicides had not caused any significant shortages of food among Viet Cong forces. On the other hand, RAND concluded that the spray program had generated much hostility toward the United States and its South Vietnamese allies. Crop destruction struck at the very heart of a rural South Vietnamese farmer's existence, eliminating not only the food supply upon which he and his family depended, but also obliterating in one spray pass the product of many months of his family's labor. If crop destruction had to continue, these analysts concluded, much greater efforts to lessen its impact on innocent civilians would be necessary.34

Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara directed the Joint Chiefs of Staff to react to RAND's criticisms.35 The Chiefs responded that spray missions against crops were meeting desired objectives, not only by causing enemy troops to go hungry in some areas but also by forcing them to divert men from combat and assign them to the tasks of procuring and transporting food. The Joint Chiefs downplayed the problem of hostility among civilians in the sprayed regions by noting that almost all crop destruction had taken place in areas uninhabited by anyone other than the Viet Cong, or in places clearly under Viet Cong domination. Presumably, anyone living there was already alienated.36 In the end, crop destruction survived this round of criticism, and Ranch Hand continued to spray fields used to grow food. PopOutInsignia.jpg (29654 bytes)

A2C Ernest C. Bohn, Jr., removes hose after pumping defoliation spray into tanks of a C-123 at Da Nang AB.  Note the "pop out" insignia that could be changed from U.S. Air Force markings to South Vietnamese markings when the planes were used for crop destruction.

Criticism from the civilian scientific community was also a problem for Ranch Hand. As early as 1964, the Federation of American Scientists had expressed opposition to herbicides in Vietnam on the grounds that the United States was capitalizing on the war as an opportunity to experiment in biological and chemical warfare.37 In January 1966, Professor John Edsall of Harvard and a group of 29 Boston scientists protested crop destruction, claiming that it was barbarous and an indiscriminate attack on both combatants and noncombatants.38 About a year later, the President's Science Advisor received a petition signed by more than 5,000 scientists, including 17 Nobel laureates and 129 members of the National Academy of Sciences, urging President Johnson to stop using antipersonnel and anticrop chemicals in Vietnam. They argued that moral restraints against chemical and biological weapons were being breached, thereby weakening the barriers against more lethal chemical weapons.39

In 1967, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, prodded by Professor E.W. Pfeiffer of the University of Montana, urged the Department of Defense to study the possible long-range ecological consequences of Ranch Hand's extensive use of herbicides in Vietnam.40 The Department of Defense had commissioned the Midwest Research Institute to undertake such a study based on a survey of existing literature, and the results of this survey appeared in December 1967. Its conclusions were that the plant-killing effects of the Ranch Hand herbicides would not last long and that revegetation would occur. On the question of toxicity to animals and people, the Midwest Research Institute researchers determined that this should not be a factor of real concern, except perhaps for cacodylic acid which should be the subject of future investigations. The National Academy of Sciences panel that reviewed their report concluded that there was not yet enough research about the effects of heavy or repeated herbicide spraying to draw firm conclusions about damage to the ecology. Although Ranch Hand was not found guilty of causing permanent ecological damage by Defense sponsored research at this time, the question had been raised and began to undermine the operation's future.41

At the same time that ecological doubts and fears were developing, economic and political criticism of Ranch Hand also began to limit its future. A policy review committee appointed by Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker in Saigon in early 1968 examined the herbicide program in detail, and although Bunker's group concluded that Ranch Hand had been successful militarily, they also pointed out some associated problems. The economic costs of the operation included damage to large areas of forest, one of South Vietnam's most valuable resources and a major basis of employment. Although crop destruction had contributed to enemy logistics difficulties, Bunker's analysts concluded that the civilian population of the sprayed areas had borne the main burden. Also criticized was the system that settled civilian claims for herbicide damage. The review committee said that most damage occurred outside the areas of Saigon's control where the compensation machinery did not operate, and corrupt local officials were a problem where it did.42

In September 1968, Ambassador Bunker reported the results of his herbicide policy review to President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam. Thieu responded that herbicides had demonstrated military value earlier in the war but that their future use should be limited and highly selective. He felt that with Vietnamese and American ground forces now being stronger and more capable, herbicides should only be sprayed along infiltration routes and in uninhabited regions. It would no longer be wise, Thieu felt, to use herbicides in populated and cultivated areas because of the propaganda benefits that would accrue to his communist opponents.43 Although American military support for Ranch Hand was still strong, Thieu’s coolness at this time was an important negative factor.

As the Nixon Administration began in 1969 to implement its policy of reducing the American presence in Southeast Asia, Ranch Hand came under increasing pressure to cut back. In late 1969, the unit was ordered to reduce its operations by 30%,44 and it lost 11 of its 25 aircraft.45 Another complicating factor during this period was the pending vote by the U.S. Senate on the Geneva Protocol outlawing chemical and biological warfare. President Nixon favored ratification, but he maintained that the Geneva Protocol did not apply to herbicides and riot control agents. The United Nations General Assembly rejected this view in December 1969,46 and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was reluctant to recommend ratification so long as Ranch Hand continued.47 By late 1969, the Nixon Administration had ample political reasons to want to kill Ranch Hand entirely.48

Ranch Hand's demise was made virtually certain by a study released in the fall of 1969 that presented evidence that 2,4,5- T, a component of Agent Orange, could, in relatively high doses, cause malformed offspring as well as stillbirths in mice.49 This study closely followed a spate of unsubstantiated reports in the South Vietnamese press that Agent Orange had caused human birth defects in that country. Because of doubts about the safety of 2,4,5-T, the Departments of Health, Education, and Welfare; Interior; and Agriculture on April 15, 1970, ordered the immediate banning of this chemical in the United States, except for carefully controlled use on non-cropland such as ranges and pastures.

Military authorities favored the continued spraying of Agent Orange in Southeast Asia under restrictions applicable in the United States.50 The Defense Department nevertheless "temporarily" halted all spraying of Agent Orange in April 1970, a ban that it never lifted in spite of intense and repeated protests from the military.51 With Agent Orange no longer available, Ranch Hand sprayed all existing stocks of the substitute defoliant Agent White, which did not contain 2,4,5-T, in a matter of days, flying its last defoliation mission of the war on May 9, 1970.52 Crop destruction sorties continued for a few months, but they, too, ended on January 7, 1971, putting Ranch Hand permanently out of business almost nine years to the day after it began.53

The end of the Ranch Hand flights, of course, did not terminate the controversies over what the extensive spraying of herbicides in Southeast Asia had done to the ecology of the land and the health of the people there, and of Americans who had served there. Under a congressional mandate, the Department of Defense contracted with the National Academy of Sciences in 1970 to study the effects of herbicides in Vietnam, a study that civilian scientists had long wanted.54 The National Academy of Sciences took about three years to complete its research, releasing its report to the public in 1974.55 Its researchers found no direct evidence of human health damage from herbicides, although they did uncover a pattern of largely second-hand reports, which they could not confirm, that herbicides had occasionally caused acute or fatal respiratory problems in children. Even after a considerable effort, the researchers could find no evidence substantiating a link between herbicides and human birth defects.

As was the case with humans, the National Academy of Sciences found that Ranch Hand's damage to the land and vegetation had been less than some had feared. The herbicides' main effect on trees had been to kill their leaves, and there was usually little lasting damage in future growing seasons unless the trees had been sprayed three or more times. Only about 12% of the total area covered by Ranch Hand had received triple coverage. The mangrove areas in the southern part of South Vietnam were an exception, because mangroves were killed by just one dose of spray due to their high sensitivity to herbicides. About 36% of the mangrove forest area in South Vietnam had been destroyed and would not return to its natural state for perhaps a century without extensive reseeding. Nevertheless, these researchers concluded that herbicides had not had any lasting effects on nutrients in the soil, with the possible exception of potassium. They also pointed out that the more conventional wartime bombing and shelling had a worse effect on inland forests than herbicides. Besides killing trees, shrapnel imbedded in wood made it both costly, and hazardous, to saw logs into lumber.56   C123Spraying.jpg (42820 bytes)

Herbicide sortie over the forests of Southeast Asia.

  Concern over the long-term effects on human health of exposure to herbicides lingered and reappeared. A Chicago television station aired a report on March 22, 1978, that alleged that 41 Vietnam veterans living in the Midwest were suffering from Agent Orange exposure. A Veterans Administration benefits counselor suggested this causal link because of the similarities in the backgrounds of veterans with medical problems that she had seen. The complaints of this group included diminished sex drives, psychological problems, numbness, and skin rashes.57

In the years following, the effects of herbicides on Vietnam veterans have been the subject of much scientific and political attention. Research focused in part on possible problems caused by dioxin, a byproduct produced in the manufacturing process of 2,4,5-T that had been present in the parts-per-million range in Agent Orange.58 The health of 1,200 Ranch Hand veterans who had the most extensive exposure to herbicides of any group of Americans who served in Southeast Asia has been extensively studied.59 As of 1996, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that there is positive evidence of association (but not necessarily causation) between herbicide exposure and soft-tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and chloracne. They have also found a limited or suggestive association between herbicides and seven other categories of disease, and further research will continue at least through 2004.60

To place events in context, the military employment of herbicides in Southeast Asia should be compared with civilian uses of the same substances. One illustrative statistic is that in the United States alone, between the years 1966 and 1969, 7,939,000 acres were treated with 2,4,5-T, the herbicide whose dioxin contaminant has caused many health concerns.61 This compares with the six million acres sprayed with all herbicides by Ranch Hand during its entire history from 1962-1971. The domestic use of 2,4,5-T was for agricultural purposes, on lawns and turf, along rights-of-way, on private forests, to kill aquatic plants, and for other purposes. There are probably few people who lived in the United States or other developed countries during the 1960s who escaped exposure to 2,4,5-T and other herbicides sprayed in Vietnam.

Honeysuckle vines were a constant problem on our woven wire fences in Tennessee. Before the general availability of herbicides, the only way to remove these vines and keep them from weighting down and destroying the fences was to laboriously hack them away. In the early 1960s, my father discovered that a simple hand sprayer and herbicide would kill honeysuckle. Some years ago I asked him what he had sprayed on the fences all those years and he directed me to a bottle in the garage. The label listed the active ingredients as an equal mixture of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, precisely the same as Agent Orange.62 It may be that many rural families in the United States had more cumulative exposure to "Agent Orange" than a typical U.S. soldier did in Vietnam.

The consequences of Ranch Hand's work on ecology and human health have received a great deal of attention, but anyone studying this operation must also look at the military impact of herbicides. Except for the very earliest evaluations,63 assessments of the military utility of herbicides were consistently positive. The Army's Engineer Strategic Study Group surveyed U.S. military officers who had served in Vietnam and released a report in 1972 concluding that combat operations would have been considerably more difficult without herbicides. The main military benefits had been increasing visibility from both the air and the ground and assisting in the defense of fixed bases. Crop destruction's main impact had been to force the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese to modify their operations.64 The military with few exceptions viewed Ranch Hand and the herbicides they sprayed as very valuable, and a big contributor toward saving American lives.

One approach to understanding Ranch Hand's role in the Vietnam War is to view herbicides as part of a larger American effort to bring technology to bear in the solution of a problem. Herbicides were part of a war effort that whenever possible substituted firepower and other manifestations of wealth and applied science for manpower, especially American manpower. As a substitute for herbicides, more combat troops on the ground would have denied the enemy the use of certain areas. More soldiers could have secured roads and other lines of communications against ambushes and interdiction. More numerous patrols and additional outposts to extend control in contested areas would have burdened the Viet Cong at least as much as did crop destruction. However, any of these substitutes, at least while Americans were heavily involved in ground operations, would have cost more in American lives, the most precious and politically costly resource available to U.S. military commanders and political leaders. Herbicides were an important part of the U.S. approach to the war that emphasized a remote, technological means of fighting whenever possible to reduce American casualties.

Finally, the changing nature of the times from 1962, when Ranch Hand began, to 1971, when it ended, and on to today, is a very important factor. Rachel Carson has been honored with a U.S. postage stamp, but the ecological ideas she expressed in Silent Spring in 1961 were not widespread when President Kennedy made the decisions that began and expanded the herbicide program in Vietnam. Then, the United States was in the era of "better living through chemistry." Later, it became common to question the safety and environmental impact of almost every substance, from air to rain water. This changing perception in American society of the products of technology made it much easier to perceive herbicides as dangerous and perhaps immoral. Opponents of the Vietnam War were then able to use this issue as a wedge in their broader attack on U.S. policy in Southeast Asia. 

Perhaps the overall lesson to be drawn from the history of Operation Ranch Hand is that unconventional weapons and tactics can have unanticipated and unconventional effects in both the physical and political environments.

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Author's Note on Sources:  Most of the documents cited in these endnotes were declassified and released to the parties in the Agent Orange litigation in the early 1980's.  I do not know if or where they are available to the public today.  If anyone knows how researchers can gain access to these documents, please inform me and I will post the information here.

1. A previous version of this paper appeared in Air University Review, Vol. 34, No. 5 (July-August 1983), pp 42-53.  For a detailed history, see the author's book, Operation Ranch Hand: The Air Force and Herbicides in Southeast Asia, 1961-1971, (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1982). Operation Ranch Hand is out of print, but it can be found in some libraries, especially Federal Depository Libraries.  The online bookstore claims they may be able to locate a used copy.

2. Report, Capt. Alvin L. Young, et al., USAF Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory, subject: The Toxicology, Environmental Fate, and Human Risk of Herbicide Orange and Its Associated Dioxin, Oct. 1978, p. I-10 (hereafter cited as USAF OEHL Report).

3. Ibid., p. I-12.

4. 2,4-D is an active ingredient in many common lawn weed killers even today.

5. Floyd M. Ashton and Alden S. Crafts, Mode of Action of Herbicides, (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1973), pp. 147-160, 266-288, 413-418.

6. Report, Army Air Forces Board, Orlando, FL, "Marking and Defoliation of Tropical Vegetation," Dec. 18, 1944.

7. Royal Air Force, The Malayan Emergency, 1948-1960, (London: Ministry of Defence, June 1970), pp. 113-114, 152.

8. Report, Wright Air Development Center, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH, subject: Engineering Study on a Large Capacity Spray System Installation for Aircraft, June 3, 1952.

9. Report, Dr. James W. Brown, U.S. Army Chemical Corps Biological Laboratories, subject: Vegetational Spray Tests in South Vietnam, Supplement, April 1962, pp. 21-31.

10. Memo, Walt W. Rostow to the President, April 12, 1961.

11. JCS 2343/3, Status Report on the Presidential Program for Vietnam as of July 10, 1961, July 21, 1961.

12. Report, Dr. J.W. Brown, U.S. Army Chemical Corps Biological Laboratories, Fort Detrick, MD, subject: Vegetational Spray Tests in South Vietnam, April 1962, pp. 39-45.

13. Memo, Deputy SECDEF to the President, subject: Defoliation Operations in Vietnam, Nov. 21, 1961.

14. Memo, SECSTATE to the President, subject: Defoliant Operations in Vietnam, Nov. 24, 1961.

15. NSAM 115, subject: Defoliant Operations in Vietnam, Nov. 30, 1961.

16. Message, Department of State to AMEMBASSY Saigon, Joint State-Defense Message No. 561, Nov. 30, 1962.

17. Record, 4th SECDEF Conference, HQ CINCPAC, March 21, 1962.

18. Memo, SECDEF to the President, subject: Chemical Crop Destruction, South Vietnam, Aug. 8, 1962.

19. Letter, Roger Hilsman to W. Averell Harriman, subject: Crop Destruction in South Vietnam, Aug. 24, 1962.

20. Letter, W. Averell Harriman to Roswell L. Gilpatric, Sept. 6, 1962.

21. Memo, Michael V. Forrestal to W. Averell Harriman, Oct. 3, 1962.

22. Report, MACJ325 to Asst CSAF, J-3, subject: Herbicide Program in RVN, Dec. 18, 1964; info brief, Lt Col Paul C. Callan, CBR/N Ops, Apr. 6, 1965, cited in Lazlo Hadik, et al., Constraints on the Uses of Weapons and Tactics in Counterinsurgency, Institute for Defense Analyses, Report R-117, June 1966, p. 41.

23. Message, SECSTATE to AMEMBASSY Vientiane, Joint State-Defense Message, 250130Z Nov 65, cited in Project CHECO Southeast Asia Report, Tiger Hound, Sept. 6, 1966, pp. 7-8.

24. Message, JCS to CINCPAC, subject: Crop Destruction, 261640Z Jul 66.

25. DJSM-196-67, Defoliation Operations in the DMZ and NVN, Jan. 13, 1967; Project CHECO Southeast Asia Report, Herbicide Operations in Southeast Asia, July 1961-June 1967, Oct. 11, 1967, pp. 28-29; Message, SECSTATE to AMEMBASSY Saigon, subject: Defoliation Operations, 121808Z Jun 67; Message, State #22808, 172309Z Aug 67.

26. Memo, Department of State Legal Adviser, subject: Proposed Q&A's for Hearings on the Geneva Protocol, Jan. 21, 1971.

27. Memo, SECDEF to the President, subject: Defoliant Operations in Vietnam, Feb. 2, 1962.

28. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 6, 1963, as reprinted in Congressional Record-Senate, March 4, 1963, p. 3458.

29. Letter, Robert W. Kastenmeier to President John F. Kennedy, March 7, 1963.

30. Letter, William P. Bundy to Robert W. Kastenmeier, March 16, 1963.

31. Fact Sheet, subject: Washington Post Report of Defoliation Damage at Cha La Outpost An Xuyen Province, HQ MACV, May 31, 1964, Annex B.

32. Washington Post, May 27, 1964.

33. Messages, COMUSMACV to JCS, subject: Jim Lucas Story on Defoliation of Friendly Area, 280421Z May 64 and 031238Z Jun 64.

34. Report, Anthony J. Russo, A Statistical Analysis of the U.S. Crop Spraying Program in South Vietnam, (RM-5450-ISA/ARPA), Oct. 1967; Report, Russell Betts and Frank Denton, An Evaluation of Chemical Crop Destruction in Vietnam, (RM-5446-ISA/ARPA), October 1967.

35. Letter, SECDEF to CJCS, Nov. 21, 1967.

36. JCSM-719-67, Review of Crop Destruction Operations in South Vietnam, Dec. 29, 1967.

37. "FAS Statement on Biological and Chemical Warfare," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Oct. 1964), pp. 46-47.

38. "Scientists Protest Viet Crop Destruction," Science, Jan. 21, 1966, p. 309.

39. "5000 Scientists Ask Ban on Gas in Vietnam," Washington Post, Feb. 15, 1967, p. A-1.

40. Minutes of the Meeting of the AAAS Council, Washington, D.C., Dec. 30, 1966, p. 9; Letter, Don K. Price to Secretary McNamara, Sept. 13, 1967.

41. Report, "Assessment of Ecological Effects of Extensive or Repeated Use of Herbicides," Midwest Research Institute, ARPA - 22 - Order No. 1086, AD824314, Dec. 1, 1967, pp. 290-292.

42. Report, AMEMBASSY Saigon, Report of the Herbicide Policy Review Committee, May 28, 1968, p. I.

43. Message, AMEMBASSY Saigon to SECSTATE, subject: Herbicides, 191300Z Sep 68.

44. Message, CINCPAC to COMUSMACV, 130830Z Sep 69.

45. History, 12th SOS, Oct.-Dec. 1969, pp. 4, 5, 7, 10.

46. "U.N. Rebuffs United States on Tear Gas Use: Vote Declares Geneva Pact Also Bans Defoliants," New York Times, Dec. 11, 1969.

47. Memo, William P. Rogers to Richard M. Nixon, subject: The Geneva Protocol, Feb. 2, 1971.

48. The Senate finally consented to the ratification of the Geneva Protocol in December 1974 after President Ford agreed to renounce the first use of herbicides except for vegetation control in and immediately around U.S. bases. See Executive Order 11850, April 8, 1975.

49. In its prepublication form, this study by K. Diane Courtney, D.W. Gaylor, M.D. Hogan, H.L. Falk, R.R. Bates and I. Mitchell was titled "Teratogenic Evaluation of 2,4,5-T." It was published under the same title in Science, Vol. 168, May 15, 1970, pp. 864- 866.

50. Memo, DDR&E to SECDEF, subject: Herbicide Operations in Southeast Asia, ca. April 15, 1970.

51. Message, JCS to CINCPAC, subject: Restriction on Use of Herbicide Orange, 152135Z Apr 70.

52. History, 12th SOS, April-June 1970, pp. 10-11.

53. Project CHECO Southeast Asia Report, Ranch Hand Herbicide Operations in SEA, July 13, 1971, pp. 32, 104.

54. Public Law 91-441, Section 501(c), 84 Stat 913.

55. Report, National Academy of Sciences, subject: The Effects of Herbicides in South Vietnam,.Part A, Summary and Conclusions, Feb. 1974, pp. xxi-xxiv.

56. Ibid., pp. S-1 - S-6; Letter, Philip Handler to the President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and SECDEF, Feb. 15, 1974.

57. Larry Green, "41 Veterans in Midwest Reportedly Show Indications of Viet Herbicide Poisoning," Los Angeles Times, March 23, 1978, p. 16.

58. USAF OEHL Report, pp. VI-28 - VI-30.

59. "Air Force Plans Health Study of Handlers of 'Agent Orange,"' Washington Post, June 5, 1979, p. A-8; Message, OSAF to ALMAJCOM, subject: Herbicide Orange Public Affairs Guidance, 061300Z Jun 79.

60. Report, Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides, National Academy of Sciences, subject: Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 1996, Table 1-1; Report, Committee to Review the Evidence Regarding the Link Between Exposure to Agent Orange and Diabetes, National Academy of Sciences, subject: Veterans and Agent Orange: Herbicide/Dioxin Exposure and Type 2 Diabetes, 2000.

61. Report, Science Advisory Board, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, subject: Herbicide Report: Chemistry and Analysis, Environmental Effects, Agriculture and Other Applied Uses, May 1974, p. 66.

62. This herbicide mixture was for sale at the local Farmers Co-Op as late as 1984.

63. SECDEF Book for March 1962 Meeting, Tab C, subject: Ranch Hand Defoliant Operations, ca. March 1962.

64. Report, Engineer Strategic Study Group, subject: Herbicides and Military Operations, Vol. I, Main Paper, Feb. 1972, pp. ix-x.

Photographs and line drawings are from Operation Ranch Hand.

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The new rules remove the 30 year limitation on cancers for AO  presumptive
service connection.
You use to have to show you got some cancers within 30 years of service.

also makes it easier for gulf war veterans with unexplained illnesses
and easier for nonservice connection pension if you have social security
especially those over age 65.  Takes away benefits from felons & fugitives
and their families.

print out below & discuss these with your service officer

Daily record of Federal register is at:

full copy of the new VA rules are at:

partial reprint below
[Federal Register: June 10, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 111)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Page 34539-34543]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access []



38 CFR Parts 3 and 13

RIN 2900-AL29

Compensation and Pension Provisions of the Veterans Education and
Benefits Expansion Act of 2001

AGENCY: Department of Veterans Affairs.

ACTION: Final rule.


SUMMARY: This document amends the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
adjudication regulations and its Veterans Benefit Administration
fiduciary activities regulations to reflect statutory provisions of the
Veterans Education and Benefits Expansion Act of 2001. These changes
address the presumption of service connection for respiratory cancers
based on herbicide exposure in Vietnam; benefits for Gulf War veterans'
chronic disabilities; repeal of the limitation of benefits for
incompetent institutionalized veterans; non-service-connected pension
eligibility; the limitation on pension for certain recipients of
Medicaid-covered nursing home care; the prohibition on certain benefits
to fugitive felons; and the limitation on the payment of compensation
for veterans remaining incarcerated since October 7, 1980. This
document also makes nonsubstantive changes for purposes of clarity and
miscellaneous technical amendments in those regulations.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: On December 27, 2001, the Veterans Education
and Benefits Expansion Act of 2001, Public Law 107-103 (the Act), was
enacted. Several provisions of the Act directly affect the payment of
VA compensation or pension benefits. These provisions concern
presumptions based on herbicide exposure in Vietnam, Gulf War veterans'
chronic disabilities, the repeal of the limitation of benefits for
incompetent institutionalized veterans, non-service-connected pension
eligibility, the extension of the limitation on pension for certain
recipients of Medicaid-covered nursing home care, the prohibition on
certain benefits to fugitive felons and their dependents, and a
limitation on the payment of compensation for certain veterans
remaining incarcerated since October 7, 1980.

    Section 201 of the Act amended 38 U.S.C. 1116(a)(2)(F) to eliminate
the requirement that respiratory cancer (cancers of the lung, bronchus,
larynx, trachea) become manifest within 30 years of the veteran's
departure from Vietnam to qualify for the presumption of service
connection based on exposure to herbicides such as Agent Orange.
Section 201 also expanded the presumption of exposure to herbicides to
include all Vietnam veterans, not just those who have a disease on the
presumptive list in 38 U.S.C. 1116(a)(2) and 38 CFR 3.309(e). In this
document we are amending 38 CFR 3.307 to reflect these changes. In
addition, section 201 added Type 2 diabetes to the presumptive list in
38 U.S.C. 1116(a)(2). This disease had previously been added to VA's
list in 38 CFR 3.309(e).
    Section 202(a) of the Act amended 38 U.S.C. 1117 to expand the
definition of ``qualifying chronic disability'' (for service
connection) to include not only a disability resulting from an
undiagnosed illness as stated in prior law, but also any diagnosed
illness that the Secretary determines in regulations warrants a
presumption of service-connection under 38 U.S.C. 1117(d). We

[[Page 34540]]

are amending Sec.  3.317 to reflect that change.
    Section 202(a) also expanded the definition of ``qualifying chronic
disability'' to include a ``medically unexplained chronic multisymptom
illness (such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and irritable
bowel syndrome) that is defined by a cluster of signs or symptoms.'' We
believe this provision may be difficult for VA adjudicators to
understand and apply consistently due to the highly technical medical
aspects of the task of determining whether an illness meets the
criteria of ``medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness * * *
that is defined by a cluster of signs or symptoms.'' Therefore this
rulemaking clarifies this category of illnesses by defining the term
``medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness'' in new Sec.
3.317(a)(2)(ii) to mean ``a diagnosed illness without conclusive
pathophysiology or etiology, that is characterized by overlapping
symptoms and signs and has features such as fatigue, pain, disability
out of proportion to physical findings, and inconsistent demonstration
of laboratory abnormalities.'' We also state: ``Chronic multisymptom
illnesses of partially understood etiology and pathophysiology will not
be considered medically unexplained.''
    This definition is based on the Joint Explanatory Statement for
H.R. 1291, the Veterans Education and Benefits Expansion Act of 2001,
December 13, 2001, 147 CR 13235 at 13238, which said ``it is the intent
of the Committees to ensure eligibility for chronically disabled Gulf
War veterans not withstanding [sic] a diagnostic label by a clinician
in the absence of conclusive pathophysiology or etiology.'' The Joint
Explanatory Statement also stated, ``The compromise agreement's
definition [of medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness * * *
that is defined by a cluster of signs or symptoms] encompasses a
variety of unexplained clinical conditions, characterized by
overlapping symptoms and signs, that share features such as fatigue,
pain, disability out of proportion to physical findings, and
inconsistent demonstration of laboratory abnormalities.'' Id. The Joint
Explanatory Statement also said, ``The Committees do not intent [sic]
this definition to assert that the cited syndromes can be clinically or
scientifically linked to Gulf War service based on current evidence,
nor do they intend to include chronic multisymptom illnesses of
partially understood etiology and pathophysiology such as diabetes or
multiple sclerosis.'' Id. We are incorporating this guidance into our
regulatory criteria for what constitutes such an illness.
    The Joint Explanatory Statement also said, ``By listing the first
three diagnoses as examples, it is the Committees' intend [sic] to give
guidance to the Secretary rather than limit eligibility for
compensation based upon other similarly described conditions that may
be defined or redefined in the future.'' Id. We believe that Congress
intended that the Secretary have the authority to decide which
illnesses satisfy the criteria and to add to this list as he or she
becomes aware of them (through advances in medical or other scientific
knowledge). As yet, VA has not identified any illness other than the
three identified in section 202(a) as a ``medically unexplained chronic
multisymptom illness,'' and we therefore specify in new Sec.
3.317(a)(2)(i)(B)(1) through (3) only chronic fatigue syndrome,
fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome as currently meeting this
definition. We also provide in new Sec.  3.317(a)(2)(i)(B)(4) that the
list may be expanded in the future when the Secretary determines that
other illnesses meet the criteria for a ``medically unexplained chronic
multisymptom illness.''
    In addition, section 202(b) changed the phrase ``Neurological signs
or symptoms'' to ``Neurological signs and symptoms,'' and we are
amending 38 CFR 3.317 accordingly.

Section 206 of the Act amended 38 U.S.C. 1502(a) to authorize VA to
consider a veteran to be permanently and totally disabled for the
purposes of non-service-connected disability pension if the veteran is:
a patient in a nursing home for long-term care due to disability, or
determined to be disabled for purposes of Social Security
Administration benefits. This document amends 38 CFR 3.3 to reflect
these changes, as well as to reflect expressly the other bases already
contained in section 1502(a) for considering persons to be totally and
permanently disabled.
    Section 207 of the Act added a new 38 U.S.C. 1513, under which a
veteran who is age 65 or over and meets the military service and
income/net worth requirements for non-service-connected pension is
eligible for pension without regard to whether the veteran is
permanently and totally disabled. This document amends 38 CFR 3.3 to
reflect that change.
    Section 504 of the Act amended 38 U.S.C. 5503 to extend the $90
limitation on pension for certain recipients of Medicaid-covered
nursing home care to September 30, 2011. This document amends 38 CFR
3.551 to reflect this change.

CFR 38 is at:

38 CFR Part 3

    Administrative practice and procedure, Claims, Disability benefits,
Health care, Pensions, Veterans, Vietnam.

38 CFR Part 13

    Surety bonds, Trusts and trustees, and Veterans.

    Approved: March 10, 2003.
Anthony J. Principi,
Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

For the reasons set forth in the preamble, 38 CFR parts 3 and 13 are
amended as follows:


Subpart A--Pension, Compensation, and Dependency and Indemnity

1. The authority citation for part 3, subpart A continues to read as

    Authority: 38 U.S.C. 501(a), unless otherwise noted.

D. In newly redesignated paragraph (a)(3)(vi)(B) introductory text,
removing ``misconduct; and'' and adding, in its place, ``misconduct.
For purposes of this paragraph, a veteran is considered permanently and
totally disabled if the veteran is any of the following:''.
    The additions read as follows:

Sec.  3.3  Pension.

* * * * *
    (a) * * *
    (3) * * *
    (vi)(A) Is age 65 or older; or
    (B) * * *
    (1) A patient in a nursing home for long-term care because of
disability; or
    (2) Disabled, as determined by the Commissioner of Social Security
for purposes of any benefits administered by the Commissioner; or
    (3) Unemployable as a result of disability reasonably certain to
continue throughout the life of the person; or
    (4) Suffering from:
    (i) Any disability which is sufficient to render it impossible for
the average person to follow a substantially gainful occupation, but
only if it is reasonably certain that such disability will continue
throughout the life of the person; or
    (ii) Any disease or disorder determined by VA to be of such a
nature or extent as to justify a determination that persons suffering
from that disease or disorder are permanently and totally disabled.

(Authority: 38 U.S.C. 1502(a), 1513, 1521, 1522)

* * * * *

Sec.  3.307  [Amended]

3. Section 3.307 is amended by:
A. In paragraph (a)(6)(ii), removing ``, and respiratory cancers within
30 years,''.
B. In paragraph (a)(6)(iii), removing ``and has a disease listed at
Sec.  3.309(e)'' and adding, in its place, a comma.

4. Section 3.317 is amended by:
A. In paragraph (a)(1) introductory text, removing ``shall'' and
adding, in its place, ``will'', and removing ``chronic disability
resulting from an illness or combination of illnesses manifested by one
or more signs or symptoms such as those listed in paragraph (b) of this
section'' and adding, in its place, ``a qualifying chronic
B. Redesignating paragraphs (a)(2) through (a)(5) as paragraphs (a)(3)
through (a)(6), respectively.
C. Adding a new paragraph (a)(2).
D. In paragraph (b) introductory text, removing ``undiagnosed illness''
and adding, in its place, ``undiagnosed illness or medically
unexplained chronic multisymptom illness''.
E. In paragraph (b)(6), removing ``or'' and adding, in its place,

[[Page 34542]]

F. In paragraph (d)(1), removing `` ``Persian Gulf veteran'' '' and
adding, in its place, ``Persian Gulf veteran''.
    The addition reads as follows:

Sec.  3.317  Compensation for disabilities occurring in Persian Gulf
War veterans.

    (a) * * *
    (2)(i) For purposes of this section, a qualifying chronic
disability means a chronic disability resulting from any of the
following (or any combination of the following):
    (A) An undiagnosed illness;
    (B) The following medically unexplained chronic multisymptom
illnesses that are defined by a cluster of signs or symptoms:
    (1) Chronic fatigue syndrome;
    (2) Fibromyalgia;
    (3) Irritable bowel syndrome; or
    (4) Any other illness that the Secretary determines meets the
criteria in paragraph (a)(2)(ii) of this section for a medically
unexplained chronic multisymptom illness; or
    (C) Any diagnosed illness that the Secretary determines in
regulations prescribed under 38 U.S.C. 1117(d) warrants a presumption
of service-connection.
    (ii) For purposes of this section, the term medically unexplained
chronic multisymptom illness means a diagnosed illness without
conclusive pathophysiology or etiology, that is characterized by
overlapping symptoms and signs and has features such as fatigue, pain,
disability out of proportion to physical findings, and inconsistent
demonstration of laboratory abnormalities. Chronic multisymptom
illnesses of partially understood etiology and pathophysiology will not
be considered medically unexplained.
* * * * *



Air Commando Association

Resources on the Vietnam Conflict at Texas Tech University

Air Force Historical Research Agency

Air Force Health Study (Population Research Branch, Brooks AFB, Texas)

Veterans and Agent Orange:  Health Effects of Herbicides Used in Vietnam (National Academy of Sciences, 1994)

Veterans and Agent Orange:  Update 1996 (National Academy of Sciences)

Veterans and Agent Orange:  Update 1998 (National Academy of Sciences)

Veterans and Agent Orange: Herbicide/Dioxin Exposure and Type 2 Diabetes (National Academy of Sciences, 2000)

Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2000 (National Academy of Sciences,  2001)

Department of Veterans Affairs, Agent Orange - Herbicide Exposure, Veterans Benefits and Services

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