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By PAULINE JELINEK
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -
The government is offering to examine Cold War American troops who served in Korea three decades ago for possible exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange.
In a little-publicized initiative, the Veterans
Affairs Department expanded a program previously offered to Vietnam War veterans
to include people who
served in Korea in 1968-69.
The rule change follows by a year the Pentagon's disclosure that South dioxin, during that time along the demilitarized zone between North and Korean troops sprayed Agent Orange, which contained the toxic herbicide South Korea.
The decision to give vets free Agent Orange Registry exams, for diseases and medical conditions associated with exposure to the herbicide, is set out in a directive issued Sept. 5 and posted on the department's http://www.va.gov World Wide Web site.
Agent Orange and other similar herbicides were used during the Vietnam War to eliminate forest cover by defoliating broad sections of jungle mainly to facilitate pursuit of infiltrators and supplies moving into South Vietnam from the north. After it appeared probable that the defoliant caused numerous serious illnesses and birth defects, the VA set up the Agent Orange Registry in 1978, three years after the war ended, for U.S. veterans with in-country Vietnam War military service. More than 300,000 veterans have participated so far
Now that we understand that it was sprayed there,'' said VA spokesman Jim Benson, we can say, If you were in Korea, you may be exposed, and we would like you to come in.
The Defense Department has always known it was used along the Korean DMZ, but it wasn't until last December that the information was publicly known
Following news reports quoting unclassified U.S. documents about the usage, the Pentagon and South Korea's government admitted that the chemical and two others were used in 1968-69 to kill dense foliage that North Korean infiltrators used for cover heading south.
Around 50,000 South Korean soldiers did the spraying by hand.
However, it is plausible that U.S. service members in the area near spraying operations may have been exposed,'' the directive said, adding that as many as 80,000 troops served in the country during the two years. A smaller number would have been near the DMZ.
The new directive does not entitle veterans to compensation for diseases, offering mainly physical examinations and counseling. Specifically, it opens to Korean veterans registration on the registry's computerized index of all examinations taken by Vietnam vets who worried they had illnesses caused by exposure to the chemical.
Like Vietnam vets in the registry, the Korea-based veterans will be tracked in Agent Orange research and get newsletters and other information that Vietnam vets get, Benson said.
A law passed a decade ago assumes exposure for any American who served in Vietnam during a certain period. The VA has compensated veterans who have some forms of cancer and a limited number of other diseases presumed, although not proven, to have been caused by the exposure.
After Korean vets register and are examined, the government would have to take further action to add their names to the list of people eligible for compensation, Benson said.
Under the law governing Agent Orange, Vietnam veterans need not prove a direct causal relationship to receive service-based compensation for certain diseases. The diseases currently on the list include Hodgkin's disease, multiple myeloma, respiratory cancers, soft-tissue sarcoma and prostate cancer. Veterans' children with spina bifida, a congenital birth defect of the spine, are also eligible for benefits and health care.
At last, more veterans will have access to Agent Orange service
Saturday, November 11, 2000
The U.S. government has a couple of presents for some of those who served in uniform under its flag in years past, just in time for Veterans Day. But these presents come wrapped with black ribbon.
For 30 years, the Pentagon knew that the same defoliant linked to illness in thousands of Vietnam War veterans, and birth abnormalities in their offspring, was used in Korea during 1968 and '69. But they didn't tell the men and women who served there that they might have been exposed to the infamous Agent Orange while stationed near the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
That nasty secret was kept until late last year. And it probably would have been kept longer if it hadn't been for news leaks quoting U.S. documents.
Now the government is extending to former Korean duty vets the same eligibility it provided to Vietnam War vets, including free medical exams under the Agent Orange Registry.
Agent Orange was used in Korea, as it was in Vietnam, to defoliate large tracks of jungle to expose enemy troops and possible supply routes.
On Thursday, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that Vietnam veterans with Type-II diabetes will now be eligible for disability compensation based on their presumed exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides used during the war.
Although it will take several months to complete the rule-writing for this directive, affected vets are encouraged to enroll in the VA's health care system immediately so they can begin receiving medical care.
This form of diabetes is added to the existing list of ailments connected with Agent Orange exposure, including a number of skin, nerve and respiratory conditions, as well as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease, prostate cancer and the birth defect spina bifida.
The Pentagon fought tooth and nail for years to discredit allegations that at times indiscriminate use of the defoliants had left American soldiers with medical problems, including cancer and birth defects in their offspring.
Veterans Day might be a good time to stop lying to veterans.