From 1962 to 1971, the U.S. military sprayed herbicides, including Agent Orange, over Vietnam. Exposure to these chemicals is associated with several cancers and a variety of other health problems. The Agent Orange Act of 1991 established that veterans with any of the diseases linked to Agent Orange were presumed exposed during their service, and therefore could claim disability. The law saved veterans from the often impossible task of proving they were exposed to Agent Orange during their service. However, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) only compensates veterans who served on the ground or on inland waterways in Vietnam. The “Blue Water Navy”—those who served on deep water vessels—are not automatically eligible for disability benefits.
In response to a growing concern from Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans that they may have been exposed to Agent Orange during the war, the VA asked the IOM to examine whether the exposure to Agent Orange of Blue Water Navy veterans was similar to the exposure of other Vietnam veterans. Although the IOM found several plausible ways by which Blue Water Navy veterans could have been exposed to herbicides, there was not enough information for the IOM to determine whether Blue Water Navy personnel were or were not exposed to Agent Orange.