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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?

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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    • profile image

      Roberto Martinez us marines ret. 67-68 nam 

      4 weeks ago

      My illness caused by agent orange but yet the Va, states that it was not effected by the war these people were not even born do they think we are Bs

    • profile image

      D C F 

      13 months ago

      I see no mention of Globe Arizona and Agent Orange it was sprayed in Pinal mountains of Arizona and also the San Carlos Apache reservation there's no mention here why?

    • CarolynPile profile image


      7 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.

    • kathysart profile image


      7 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.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

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

    • profile image


      7 years ago

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

    • Philippians468 profile image


      7 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.

    • JeremiahStanghini profile image


      7 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,


    • Barb McCoy profile image

      Barb McCoy 

      7 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.

    • profile image


      7 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.

    • Addy Bell profile image

      Addy Bell 

      7 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.

    • Paul Ward profile image


      7 years ago from Liverpool, England

      Mega lens!

    • BuckHawkcenter profile image


      7 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.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

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

    • profile image


      7 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.

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image


      7 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.

    • juliannegentile profile image

      Julianne Gentile 

      7 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.

    • tandemonimom lm profile image

      tandemonimom lm 

      7 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.

    • TapIn2U profile image


      7 years ago

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

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 

      7 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.

    • profile image


      7 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.

    • JulietJohnson profile image


      7 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!

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 

      7 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.

    • profile image


      7 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.

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 

      7 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      Well written lens on orange orange and Vietnam.

    • profile image


      7 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!

    • sorana lm profile image

      sorana lm 

      7 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.

    • profile image


      7 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.

    • Geekgurl profile image

      Kimberly Hiller 

      7 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!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 

      7 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.

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image


      7 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.

    • joanhall profile image

      Joan Hall 

      7 years ago from Los Angeles

      Great job, Carmen. Excellent treatment of this topic.

    • DecoratingEvents profile image


      7 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.


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