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Agent Orange and Vietnam Veterans

Updated on April 27, 2011

Agent Orange and Operation Ranch Hand

Agent Orange was used by the U.S. military from 1961 to 1971 in Vietnam. The herbicide was used to defoliate inland and coastal forests, cultivated land, and areas around military bases during the Vietnam conflict.

The long term health effects of our military veterans has been widely debated. Earlier studies had found no variation in the cancer rates of a soldier who had fought in Vietnam as compared to a man of the same age who had not spent any time in Vietnam. New studies do refute those prior arguments.

Perhaps the experts should talk to each veteran who currently suffers from those "non-existant" long term effects.

Our veterans deserve honor and respect. They have fought valiantly during the war, and now must continue the fight in order to receive the health care they deserve.


What is Agent Orange?

Why were herbicides used?

Agent Orange was used to defoliate the jungles of Vietnam.

Originally designated as "Operation Hades," the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) developed a plan to defoliate areas of Vietnam that were infiltrated with enemy soldiers using guerilla-type warfare.

Objectives of Operation Hades/Ranch Hand:

  • Defoliate and destroy the triple canopy jungle to uncover the guerilla fighters.
  • Clear certain areas to reduce the chance of ambush.
  • Establish "fields of fire" around military bases so the enemy could not infiltrate under cover.
  • Deny food to the enemy.
A number of herbicides were used during this operation. The different herbicides were coded with a colored band placed on the 55 gallon storage barrels for easier identification.

They became known as the "Rainbow Herbicides."

Agent Orange, coded with an orange band, was a 50:50 mixture of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D. The important thing to note is that the mixture was contaminated with 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorobenzo-para-dioxin (known simply as TCDD), a known human carcinogen.


Where Was Agent Orange Sprayed?

How much of the herbicides were sprayed in Vietnam?

Figures vary, but an estimated 12 million gallons (45 million liters) of Agent Orange were sprayed over Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries. The Mekong Delta area, located in the southern tip of South Vietnam, was heavily sprayed. If the undebrush had not been removed along the water's edge, then the U.S. Navy patrol boats would have been much more vulnerable.

Between 1961 and 1967, it is estimated that 20 million gallons (75.7 million liters) of the different herbicides were sprayed over 6 million acres of crops after the Kennedy administration decided to target the rice crops in the hopes of starving the enemy.

Unfortunately, Agent Orange was not as harmless as government officials had stated.

Operation Hades became Operation Ranch Hand

but the insignia patch kept the satanic symbol of a devil with a pitch fork.

US Airforce and Operation Ranch Hand Run - Spraying Defoliant


The U.S. Airforce on one of the "Ranch Hand" runs. As part of this Operation, the military is spraying defoliant throughout the countryside of Vietnam. Originally termed "Operation Hades," the new title "Operation Ranch Hand" was used to improve public relations.

Agent Orange Sprayed on Rice Fields


U.S. Army spraying Agent Orange over Vietnamese rice fields during the Vietnam War. You can clearly see the soldiers are not wearing any protective gear.

U.S. Army Spraying Herbicides


Agent Orange sprayed by U.S. Army Operations.

Vietnamese Personnel in Training - Deep in the jungle


I included this image because you can get an idea of how dense and thick the vegetation is in Vietnam. Standing are two Vietnamese soldiers who are being trained by the American military.


Veterans and Agent Orange

As noted in Veterans and Agent Orange (link to the online version),

There is sufficient evidence of an association between exposure to the chemicals of interest and the following health outcomes:

  • Soft-tissue sarcoma (including heart)
  • Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (including hairy cell leukemia and other chronic B-cell leukemias) (category clarification since Update 2006)
  • Hodgkin's disease
  • Chloracne

Limited or Suggestive Evidence of an Association

There is limited or suggestive evidence of an association between exposure to the chemicals of interest and the following health outcomes:

  • Laryngeal cancer
  • Cancer of the lung, bronchus, or trachea
  • Prostate cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • AL amyloidosis
  • Early-onset transient peripheral neuropathy
  • Parkinson's disease (category change from Update 2006)
  • Porphyria cutanea tarda
  • Hypertension
  • Ischemic heart disease (category change from Update 2006)
  • Type 2 diabetes (mellitus)
  • Spina bifida in offspring of exposed people

Veterans and Agent Orange, page 652

You can also purchase Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2008 from Amazon. Or, you can use the link provided above to read the online version.

What do you think about Agent Orange? - Herbicide Defoliation and the Ultimate Toll on our Veterans

What do you think of the decision to use the various herbicides to defoliate the country side during the Vietnam War? Many people believe that DOW and the other chemical companies knew and fully understood the possible health risks of spraying Agent Orange.

Do you think using Agent Orange was a justified decision at the time?

Yes. We were fighting in a jungle. Using the herbicides was a way to help our soldiers.

Yes. We were fighting in a jungle. Using the herbicides was a way to help our soldiers.

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    • Country Sunshine 5 years ago from Texas

      At the time? Yes! It's easy to look backwards and say something is a mistake. I think they did what they thought necessary at the time.

    • anonymous 6 years ago

      in you are the head of the u.s. militar, are you going to user agent orage?why?

    • tssfacts 6 years ago

      I have often wondered why protection gear wasn't issued. With that large amount of Agent Orange being sprayed it seems that perhaps the health issues could be lessen somewhat if protected gear was given to our soldiers.

    No. The health risks were documented and well known. Too many of our veterans are now once again fighting for their lives.

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      • Uk jim 2 years ago

        worked in Vietnam in 1986-90 I could not believe the number of children still being born with horrific deformities great foreign policy. Not down to A.O. Doh?

      • anonymous 3 years ago

        No, the use of such agents was not justified. America as finaly taken care of the soldiers and Monsanto paid off one of the cities in West virginia, where they were producing their poison. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese victims have received very little in the way of treatment and the clean-up effort is under way, but there's not enough being done, in my opinion. Shame on us (America) and shame on the people at Monsanto.

      • anonymous 4 years ago

        No, not if DOW & other companies knew of harmful effects & didn't protect our Service Personnel! Especially if there was a safer means available that could have achieved the same objective :(

      • liny-tan 4 years ago

        no! never!

      • anonymous 4 years ago


      • anonymous 4 years ago


      • anonymous 4 years ago

        No, the U. S. government and U. S. chemical corporations knew exactly what they were doing, when they sprayed Agent Orange in the Nam; because, they had previously sprayed Agent Orange in Korea during the Koren War. In point of fact, Korea is still paying for that prior and well-documented poisoning. The Nazi federal government actually built gas chambers to disperse their unspeakable poisons; but, comparably, as history will yet tell, the U. S. federal government just had planes flying wing-tip-to-wing-tip, as they simply poisoned immense portions of South Vietnam and all living things below. We hung the Nazis or imprisoned them for life for what they did, but U. S entities made their billions of dollars from their murderously-improved Agent Orange, poisoned U. S. troops to covertly silence them while maintaining a semmingly-plausible form of self-denial, claimed ignorance as a defense, and not one responsible U. S. entity even served one day in prison. Someday, at least, God will correct this state of affairs, this murderous hypocrisy; and, in the day of God, His divine Justice will be fully served without error and without bias. The U. S. government and chemical industry officials' grossly insipid and false claims to ignorance will then be seen for the self-serving sophistry, absurd notions, supreme nonsense, and cloaked-over holocaust which they truly represent. After all has been asserted by lying and murderous officials, in their false claims to defend themselves, we should remember that not even a genuine claim, as to ignorance, and/or not even a genuine claim asserting "we didn't know what we were doing" is a valid defense against murder on any scale let alone on a national and massive scale as the Nam represents by way of a historical re-using of Agent Orange. Not counting millions of Vietnamese nationals, over 2.4 million U. S. troops were exposed to the lethal effects of Agent Orange in the Nam. I am one of those troops presently fighting a losing battle against the deadly effects of Agent Orange from Nam; but, I will not burden you with my personally inescapable and unpleasant details. However, as one final salute, I am obligated to say that both my brother and also my very best friend since childhood are each one already dead as a direct result of the effects of their own Agent Orange poisoning while in the Nam. In fact, 69% of all in-country Vietnam War Veterans are already dead! That is sobering fact. With the greatest of brotherly respect, it is my honor to salute them smartly. What they have been through both humbles and strengthens me by their example. Finally, I say: "Welcome back to 'the world' to the remaining 31%, and/or welcome home to the remaining 31%, who are still alive, or who are still somewhat alive, or who are still surviving. I understand what it meant to go, what it meant to be there, what it meant to be surprised to actually return from Nam, and the harsh and wrongful realities of the response upon our return. Thus, to the 31% of my brothers and sisters still hanging-on, with respect, it is a great honor to also respectfully render you a crisp hand salute. The long arm of the nightmare called Nam is still reaching out to huge numbers of us - - in more ways than one!" As a former U. S. Army Company Commander in Nam, I suggest: "In reality, life experience has taught us that on many levels everyone really looses in war, - - especially the smug, State-side, self-important, self-inflated, self-serving, and arm-chair profiteers. These falsely-patriotic profiteers, who blindly and shamelessly observed a profit-at-all-costs-mind-set during the Vietnam War, and who are also part of the real 'domestic' 'enemies' of which our induction oath spoke, just don't know the full extent of their actual loses, just yet; but, they will. However, on a singular level, historically, as Vietnam War Veterans, we didn't loose. Historically, we just left. Indeed, we left the Nam as a fighting force by direct order of the duly-elected U. S. President, our Commander-in-Chief. Thank you, dear reader, for your valuable time. Out."

      • anonymous 5 years ago

        Hell NO

      • anonymous 5 years ago

        No Way! When I arived in Vietnam and went to my firebase, i noticed the red clay soil, and the lack of grass anwhere on base! No animals around anywhere either. They justified the spraying by saying it was only temporary! They would spray this stuff around so much, you could feel the mist.

      • anonymous 6 years ago

        The whole war was wrong, misguided and unnecessary so how can you even consider excusing using such chemicals. 50 years later we're still feeling the effects.

      • CarolynPile 6 years ago

        Heck no! My husband is still having health problems as a result of that war.

      • bikerministry 6 years ago

        This is a horrible, unfortunate chapter in America's history. I know that Agent Orange was also used in Korea on the DMZ during the Vietnam war. It now has been documented.

      • kathysart 6 years ago

        US Government essentially gassed its own people. That might sound harsh but that is the way I feel about it. Now, they do everything they can do not take responsibility for this horrible deed. Of course it did not help anything.

      • anonymous 6 years ago

        Absolutely not! The government knew they were using a chemical that was harmful to the tropps but decide to ignore the risk. Three years ago, 40 years after exposure to Agent Orange, my husband was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma resulting in acute kidney failure and passed away on Oct. 6th, 2010. How many more will be diagnosed in the next few years?

      • reasonablerobby 6 years ago

        wrong solution to the problem

      • Addy Bell 6 years ago

        I suspect that more was known about Agent Orange than the military admitted at the time. Sadly, we have a long history of experimenting on our troops.

      • JulietJohnson 6 years ago

        I think if we knew then what we know now, there'd have been a lot less of all of these kinds of weapons. The cynic in me says, they didn't bother to fully research consequences because they didn't expect the soldiers to survive.

      • Sandy Mertens 6 years ago from Frozen Tundra

        Over the years our military have always been exposed to harmful chemicals and been guinea pigs The government has been aware of the health risk

      • anonymous 6 years ago

        It is very difficult to judge decisions made in the past by looking at the consequences of the future. Perhaps the chemical companies knew the hazards, but did all those who made the military decisions also know? We will probably never have a complete answer. We can only pray that this same kind of situation never again happens--like when someone in power decides that a biological WMD would be "helpful" in certain military operations. God forbid.

      • DecoratingEvents 6 years ago

        I think it is an awful weapon and that they didn't have enough research as to the implications for possible future health problems. I am sure it wasn't an easy decision and would like to think that the powers that be thought it would "help" not hinder our military.

      Soldiers spraying Agent Orange Defoliant

      The herbicides used in Vietnam were not just applied via planes spraying the countryside. As you can see in the first video below, the soldiers were spraying the defoliant along the banks of this waterway. They had absolutely no protective clothing or masks. The fine mist was being inhaled, and was absorbed through dermal contact.

      Agent Orange: The Last Battle - Two American Veterans tell their story


      Two American Veterans tell their story of being exposed to Agent Orange, one of the defoliants used in Vietnam. They tell their stories of how they were sprayed with this toxic chemical mixture and how it has impacted their lives. They tell their stories of how they continue to fight another battle after leaving Vietnam.

      "This moving documentary is a dramatic reminder of the effects war can have, even when that war is long over."



      Agent Orange Class Settlement

      In 1979, a class action lawsuit was brought against the manufacturers of Agent Orange. The case was settled in 1984 for the sum of $180 million. The money was to be distributed among the Vietnam veterans as needed. Only approximatelty 50,000 veterans ever received compensation from the settlement fund before it ran out of money in 1994.

      At the time of the class action settlement, most veterans had not yet been diagnosed with any of the cancers that the National Academy of Sciences had tied to the exposure of the Agent Orange. The cancers would often take 20 years to develop.

      The case of Dow Chemical Co. v Stephenson questioned whether the veterans who had not been diagnosed with cancer at the time of the settlement were still legally bound to that court decision if the settlement money was already gone.

      In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court opened the doors for those veterans, allowing them to pursure their legal claims against the Agent Orange manufacturers.

      Nearly 3 million Americans served in Vietnam

      Agent Orange was not restricted to Vietnam

      During my research, I came across numerous articles that discuss the use of Agent Orange having been used in other countries. I included some of the links here.

      How many names are not included on this wall that should be here? How many Veterans died after the war as a result of exposure to Agent Orange?

      Photo Credit: Jim Bowen under Creative Commons License.

      Do you know any Veterans who were affected by Agent Orange? What is your opinion on how this herbicide was used during the Vietnam Conflict?

      Please feel free to comment

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        • DecoratingEvents profile image

          DecoratingEvents 6 years ago

          Carmen, I don't know what to say. This is above anything I had hoped for. Beautiful job. I thank you for my dad (Agent Orange 100% disabled Vietnam Vet) and all the other Vets out there. They put their life on the line to protect us but got to come home. They may still pay a price for their patriotism. Not as high a price as those young men and women that died over there, but still a price. God bless all the Veterans and thank you.

        • joanhall profile image

          Joan Hall 6 years ago from Los Angeles

          Great job, Carmen. Excellent treatment of this topic.

        • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

          MargoPArrowsmith 6 years ago

          My brother flew helicopters in Viet Nam. He was supposed to rescue men who were shot down. He was convinced, from the way it was set up, that it was for show and there was little concern if any were found.

        • Sylvestermouse profile image

          Cynthia Sylvestermouse 6 years ago from United States

          This is a wonderfully well written and informative article! Chemical warfare is horrific. I don't know anyone personally who were affected by Agent Orange, but the doctors suspect that the odd, unidentifiable cancer that my brother had, was related to some chemical he came in contact with during his military duty. It was an awful way to die and he was way to young. The men poisoned by Agent Orange and other chemicals were certainly victims of war.

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          Kimberly Hiller 6 years ago from Chicago

          This a great lens! You can tell you put a lot of time into gathering and developing your content. I have always read a lot about WW1/WW2, but not so much for Vietnam. Thanks for educating us!

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          anonymous 6 years ago

          I lost friends in the Vietnam war, but have known none personally that suffered from Agent Orange. I can only imagine the agony of carrying that war with you for the rest of your (too soon shortened) life. Thank you for this wonderful tribute to those brave men and women who died there and those who came back to die here.

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          sorana lm 6 years ago

          Your lens is very descriptive and informative. I don't know any Vietnam veterans but the stories you read and hear are so moving. Great homage lens to all involved.

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          anonymous 6 years ago

          Wonderfully researched and written! So many boys from my hometown area served in Vietnam...some came home to us in a body bag and others came home scarred both physically and mentally from their service. My boss served his term during the mid-60s and every time I hear him say to someone "Welcome Home Brother" I just sob!

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          tssfacts 6 years ago

          Outstanding article. I don't know any one that was effected by Agent Orange personally. But have worked with some "victims" in the medical setting. I thank all our military personnel that gave their lives for our freedom and for those who are willing to pay that price.

        • jptanabe profile image

          Jennifer P Tanabe 6 years ago from Red Hook, NY

          Wow, great article on Agent Orange. I knew very little about it really, so I'm grateful to have a much better understanding now.

        • JulietJohnson profile image

          JulietJohnson 6 years ago

          What a beautifully done, sobering lens! Back in the 80s I worked for a guy who did factoring. He knew months ahead of the next war when the Army would order up a new batch of coffins.

          Talk about macabre!

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          happynutritionist 6 years ago

          Good lens on a difficult topic...had a good friend die some years ago as a result of being exposed to Agent Orange. That's about all I have to say about that. Worthy of the purple star.

        • indigoj profile image

          Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

          This is very educational and an eye-opener for those of us who have heard of Agent Orange but never really knew much about it. Great job and a very worthy addition to the Jenga tower.

        • TapIn2U profile image

          TapIn2U 6 years ago

          So much to learn from our history. A very informative lens. Good job!

        • tandemonimom lm profile image

          tandemonimom lm 6 years ago

          I knew a little about Agent Orange; it's good to know more. Such a terrible tragedy, and even more so if they DID know how harmful it would be.

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          Julianne Gentile 6 years ago from Cleveland, Ohio, US

          Thank you for putting this together. This is a wonderful addition to the tower and very worthy of a blessing.

        • Wednesday-Elf profile image

          Wednesday-Elf 6 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

          I don't know any veterans personally who were affected by Agent Orange, but have had a lot of friends in the military over the years. Stories such as this need to be told ... and repeated often. Very well done.

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          anonymous 6 years ago

          Excellent lens!!! ... This is lensrolled to Support Our Troops and Veterans and to Veterans and Veterans of War - USA. I will be getting it featured there also.

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          kimmanleyort 6 years ago

          This is such a thorough, educational and, at the same time, heartbreaking lens. Something we should always be reminded of.

        • BuckHawkcenter profile image

          BuckHawkcenter 6 years ago

          Wow, what a lesson for all of us to remember. Tremendous job, as always. A great addition to the Jenga Tower and deserving of some more Angel Dust.

        • Addy Bell profile image

          Addy Bell 6 years ago

          I'd always wondered why it was called "Agent Orange. Thanks for answering that question.

          A friend's father was exposed to Agent Orange when he served in Viet Nam. He doesn't have cancer (yet) but has had weird health problems ever since. Getting help from the otherwise-excellent VA medical system is apparently a no-go when you need to be treated for a condition the government pretends doesn't exist.

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          reasonablerobby 6 years ago

          What an excellent lens. I studied the Vietnam War as a young British undergraduate. Nothing quite brings home the reality like the information you have provided here. Text books santise things.

        • Barb McCoy profile image

          Barb McCoy 6 years ago

          What an important lens! Thank you so much for putting this all into one easy to read place. My teen is studying this time period in our homeschool history course and I will be having him use this as a reference.

          Adding as a favorite and leaving a special Angel Blessing.

        • JeremiahStanghini profile image

          JeremiahStanghini 6 years ago

          I'm a little young to know about the Vietnam war, but this lens helped me learn about it.

          With Love and Gratitude,


        • Philippians468 profile image

          Philippians468 6 years ago

          thank you for such an informative and well done lens. i learnt much from this and my heart goes out to those who were affected by the incident.

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          tssfacts 6 years ago

          Just flying back by to give a SquidAngel blessing on a wonderful article.

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          careermom 6 years ago

          It amounts to chemical warfare even if the intent wasn't to kill the "enemy". It was absolutely unconscionable.

        • kathysart profile image

          kathysart 6 years ago

          My husband vomits almost every day due to the effects of Agent Orange. The government does NOT help and claims are continually denied. The VA is good for nothing when it comes to Vietnam Vets suffering from Agent Orange exposure. Deny ~ Delay ~ Death, is a common quote by many of its victims.

        • CarolynPile profile image

          CarolynPile 6 years ago

          Not only are veterans such as my husband affected, but I understand that the people of Vietnam today are living on poisoned ground, having birth defects generations later.

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