Agent Orange Effects on the Second Generation

Agent Orange is an herbicide the United States military used during the Vietnam War era to reduce jungle foliage and kill crops in Vietnam from 1962 to 1971. Agent Orange exposure has been linked to serious health conditions, including various forms of cancer and  Parkinson’s disease. 

Key Takeaways
  • Agent Orange, used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War has been linked to severe health issues in veterans and potentially their children and grandchildren.
  • Scientific studies have identified birth defects and health conditions in the offspring of exposed veterans, including spina bifida, but a definitive causal link to Agent Orange exposure remains unconfirmed.
  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers disability compensation and benefits to children of veterans with certain conditions presumed to be caused by Agent Orange, with spina bifida being notably recognized.
  • Vietnamese and international research suggests that Agent Orange’s dioxin can cause DNA damage across generations, affecting not only children but also grandchildren of exposed individuals

Veterans continue to experience the effects of Agent Orange today, and for some, the effects have passed to their children and grandchildren. Scientific studies have not yet confirmed a causal connection between Agent Orange exposure and birth defects. However, your children may still be entitled to VA benefits if they were born with a birth defect connected to Agent Orange exposure during your military service.

How Does Agent Orange Affect the 2nd Generation?

Exposure to Agent Orange during military service may cause the following conditions in the children of exposed veterans:

  • Birth defects
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Stunted emotional development
  • Cognitive disabilities

Birth defects with a suspected link to Agent Orange exposure include spina bifida, cleft palates, missing limbs, deformities of the limbs, and heart deformities.

A 2016 investigation by the public interest news organization ProPublica identified multiple children of exposed veterans who experienced numerous other birth defects. They included shortened limbs, webbed toes, extra vertebrae, autoimmune disorders, kidney dysfunction, digestive system disorders, and many other rare conditions. The research found a 30 percent higher incidence of birth defects in the children of Vietnam veterans with known exposure compared to those who were unexposed or unsure if they had been exposed.

Agent Orange and Spina Bifida

Spina bifida is the birth defect most strongly associated with Agent Orange exposure. Spina bifida is a neural tube defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord form abnormally. The neural tube forms during early pregnancy and ultimately becomes the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Spina bifida occurs between the third and fourth weeks of pregnancy when the neural tube fails to close. It can cause mild to severe disabilities. There are three types of spina bifida:

  • Spina bifida occulta, or hidden spina bifida, is the mildest form and rarely affects functioning. It is often not discovered until imaging tests are taken for other reasons.
  • Meningocele is a rare type of spina bifida in which a sac containing spinal fluid protrudes through the spine, generally without significantly affecting functioning.
  • Myelomeningocele, or open spina bifida, is the most common form of spina bifida, accounting for 75 percent of cases. It occurs when part of the spinal cord bulges through an opening in the vertebrae, often exposing nerves and tissues. It may result in loss of bowel and bladder function and total paralysis of the legs.

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Does Agent Orange Have Effects on the 3rd Generation?

According to Scientific American, Vietnamese scientists assert that the dioxin in Agent Orange causes DNA damage that can be passed from generation to generation, even to the third generation. 

Scientists worldwide have conducted rodent studies, finding that the dioxin in Agent Orange can alter the epigenome, the biological system that controls how genes are expressed. It can turn genes on or off and reprogram how cells function. Thus, offspring can inherit the same genes as the parents but have characteristics not seen in the parents. Epigenetic processes control important bodily functions, such as whether the heart beats or nerve impulses are transmitted to the brain.

If Agent Orange damages the DNA, the children of exposed veterans could transmit damaged genetic material to their children, even if they were not exposed to Agent Orange themselves. A reproductive biologist at Washington State University told ABC News that his research found that the genetic damage can skip a generation and affect an exposed veteran’s grandchildren even if the children were not affected.

Why Is There No Scientific Consensus on 2nd Generation Agent Orange Symptoms?

Despite strong anecdotal evidence to support a link between Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam and adverse effects in the offspring of exposed Veterans, the United States government and the VA have yet to acknowledge a definitive link. The Arizona State University Embryo Project Encyclopedia reports that numerous study groups have tested the effects of Agent Orange in the offspring of laboratory animals and Vietnam veterans in the United States and Vietnam since the 1980s.

Studies in Vietnam have identified a large number of unusual birth defects in the children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange. These include malformed skulls, missing brain parts, missing eyes, and severe limb deformities. However, Western scientists have identified problems with how these studies were conducted and found the results inconclusive.

The inability of scientists to perform a well-designed study that could confirm a causal link between various birth defects and symptoms in offspring may be politically motivated. The Scientific American notes that a study tying second-generation health problems to Agent Orange could result in the United States owing Vietnam reparations. It could also result in the VA owing benefits to a large number of uncompensated victims.

Compensation for the 2nd Generation Health Effects of Agent Orange

If you conceived a child after military service in exposure areas during the Vietnam War era and your child developed Spina Bifida Meningocele or Myelomeningocele, your child may be eligible for disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

For your child to be eligible, you must have served in at least one of the following locations:

  • The Republic of Vietnam or Thailand for any period between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975
  • Near the Korean Demilitarized Zone for any period between September 1, 1967 and August 31, 1971

If you meet these qualifications, the VA will presume that the Spina Bifida was caused by Agent Orange exposure during your military service. Spina Bifida is the only condition for which the VA offers benefits to the children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange. The VA does not compensate children with spina bifida occulta.

Some Children of Female Vietnam Veterans Qualify for Benefits for Birth Defects Other than Spina Bifida

If you are a mother who served in Vietnam for any period between February 28, 1961, and May 7, 1975, your biological child may be entitled to VA benefits if they developed certain additional birth defects. The VA does not presume these birth defects are connected to Agent Orange, but it does presume they resulted from military service in Vietnam in general.

If you conceived your child after entering Vietnam and your child has been diagnosed with any of the following birth defects, the VA will presume that the birth defect resulted from your service in Vietnam:

  • Achondroplasia
  • Cleft lip and palate
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Clubfoot
  • Narrowing of the esophagus or intestines
  • Hallerman-Streiff syndrome
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Congenital megacolon
  • Congenital hydrocephalus
  • Hypospadias
  • Anal malformation
  • Neural tube defects
  • Poland syndrome
  • Pyloric stenosis
  • Fused fingers or toes
  • Tracheoesophageal fistula
  • Undescended testicle
  • Williams syndrome

This is not an exhaustive list. The VA may cover any service-connected birth defect that causes a permanent physical or mental disability in the offspring of female Vietnam veterans who served in Vietnam. However, before your child can receive the benefit of the presumption, you will need to prove that the condition is not the result of an inherited disorder, birth injury, or fetal illness.

What Benefits Does the VA Offer?

The VA offers free health care, vocational training, and monthly compensation to eligible children with service-connected birth defects. The available VA benefits vary based on whether the birth defect is spina bifida or something else.

VA Healthcare

If your child has spina bifida, the VA provides comprehensive health insurance with no deductibles or co-pays. The plan includes pharmacy costs. For children born to female Vietnam veterans, the VA offers health care only for the treatment of birth defects and related conditions.

Monthly Compensation

Monthly birth defect compensation for children with service-connected spina bifida ranges from $407 to $2,352 per month, depending on the degree of disability. Compensation for the children of female Vietnam veterans with other connected birth defects ranges from $190 to $2,352 per month. This amount is adjusted annually.

Vocational Training

The VA provides up to 24 months of vocational training to qualified children with service-connected disabilities. The training becomes available after the child finishes high school or reaches the age of 18, whichever comes first. The VA pays the full cost of training for services related to job training or finding employment. These services may include the following:

  • Counseling
  • Rehabilitation
  • Education
  • Job training
  • Employment services

Contact Veterans Guide for Questions about Agent Orange Symptoms in Offspring and VA Compensation

If your child suffered a birth defect and you or the other parent served in Vietnam or the surrounding areas during the Vietnam conflict, Agent Orange exposure may be to blame. 

Call the Veterans Guide today at (888) 982-1009 or contact us online with any questions or to learn about what else you may be entitled to.

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