C-123 Airplanes, Jungle, People and Agent Orange Residue

During the Vietnam War, the United States military used a herbicide called Agent Orange as a defoliant in Vietnam and on the perimeters of certain Royal Thai Air Force Bases in Thailand.  Agent Orange was sprayed by C-123 aircraft as a part of  a means of killing vegetation in Vietnam during the war, aiming at the roads and trail bringing Chinese and Russian supplies to the South.

C-123 aircraft were used to spray Agent Orange over forested areas in Vietnam primarily finding and defoliate segments of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  IT WAS CALLED OPERATION RANCH HAND. The C-123 aircraft were fitted with spray tanks to spray the herbicide across large areas of the country. there were variations

Following a report released by the Institute of Medicine called Post-Vietnam Dioxin Exposure in Agent Orange-Contaminated C-123 Aircraft, the VA has conceded that Airmen who worked on C-123 aircraft as apart of Operation Ranch Hand were exposed to Agent Orange, and qualify for presumptive service connection for certain diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure.

The report found that the C-123 aircraft used during Operation Ranch Hand had residue of Agent Orange, and those who worked on these aircrafts after their return were exposed to the herbicide. After Operation Ranch Hand, C-123 aircraft were returned to the United States to be used by the Air Force and Air Force reserves, exposing service members to the Agent Orange that remained on the aircraft. The report found that exposure to Agent Orange could result in adverse health issues.

As a result of the report, the VA has added those who worked on or served onboard these aircraft to the VA’s herbicide presumption regulation.

Vietnam veteran Robert P. Patenaude with the Agent Orange spray plane he and others crewed during the war. The C 123 transport named “Patches" because of all the bullet holes it received is now in a container that can only be accessed with hazmat suits, according to Patenaude, who receives disability payments because of Agent Orange. 

When those planes returned they were made into ambulances, transports and now, three decades later, veterans of the 439th Tactical Airlift Wing at Westover Air Reserve Base believe those airplanes are responsible for making them sick.  For nine years they flew in them, they fixed them and they treated patients in them. Unknown to the veterans, the C-123 Providers, which had previously flown in Vietnam, were contaminated with Agent Orange. 

Many in an effort to hide evidence or simply neutralize the C-123’s was called forth to the Bone Yard.

Nearly three dozen rugged C-123 transport planes formed the backbone of the U.S. military’s campaign to spray Agent Orange over jungles hiding enemy soldiers during the Vietnam War. And many of the troops who served in the conflict have been compensated for diseases associated with their exposure to the toxic defoliant.

But after the war, some of the planes were used on cargo missions in the United States. Now a bitter fight has sprung up over whether those in the military who worked, ate and slept in the planes after the war should also be compensated. Two U.S. senators are now questioning the Department of Veterans Affairs’ assertions that any postwar contamination on the planes was not high enough to be linked to disease.

Complicating the debate is that few of the planes remain to be tested. In 2010, the air force destroyed 18 of the Vietnam-era aircraft in part because of concerns about potential liability for Agent Orange, according to air force memos documenting the destruction.   The air force says the planes’ destruction was handled properly.

The air force aborted plans to sell some of the planes in 1996, after evidence surfaced that 18 of them might still be contaminated with TCDD dioxin, a carcinogen associated with Agent Orange, according to air force documents and papers filed with the General Services Administration’s Board of Contract Appeals. The planes were quarantined instead in Arizona at a storage facility at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, nicknamed “the Boneyard.”

The air force did not notify the post-Vietnam crews or Boneyard employees of the potential risk, according to air force documents. 

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Air Force used C-123 aircraft to spray Agent Orange to clear jungles that provided enemy cover in Vietnam. At the end of the spraying campaign in 1971, the remaining C-123 planes were reassigned to reserve units in the US for routine cargo and medical evacuation missions spanning the next 10 years.  After the front line or behind line action involving the Ho Chi Minh Trail Defoliation, there were questions as to how well these aircraft were “neutralized”. 

Some Air Force Reservists who were crew members on C-123 Provider aircraft, formerly used to spray Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, have raised health concerns about exposure to residual amounts of herbicides on plane surfaces.

Responding to these concerns, VA asked the Health and Medicine Division (HMD) (formally known as the Institute of Medicine) of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to study possible exposure and increase in adverse health effects in C-123 crew members.

HMD released its report, Post-Vietnam Dioxin Exposure in Agent Orange-Contaminated C-123 Aircraft,  Jan. 9, 2015. According to the report, from 1972 to 1982, approximately 1,500 to 2,100 Air Force Reserve personnel trained and worked on C-123 aircraft that previously had been used to spray herbicides, including Agent Orange, in Vietnam. 

HMD found that Reservists who served as flight crew (pilot, navigator, flight engineer, and loadmaster), ground maintenance crew, and aero-medical personnel had regular contact with the aircraft, and would have experienced some exposure to chemicals from herbicide residue. The report determined that it is possible that this exposure contributed to some adverse health effects.

TCDD, the toxic substance in Agent Orange, may be inhaled as an aerosol or ingested by contaminated food or water or from hand-to-mouth transfer or  “BETTER DEATH THROUGH DUPONT”

In response to the Institute of Medicine’s report on Post-Vietnam Dioxin Exposure in Agent Orange-Contaminated C-123 Aircraft from the National Academy of Sciences, we have determined there is evidence of exposure to Agent Orange for Airmen who worked on C-123s that were used in Vietnam as part of Operation Ranch Hand. 

Specifically, we have determined there is sufficient evidence that Air Force and Air Force Reserve members who served during the period 1969 through 1986 and regularly and repeatedly operated, maintained, or served onboard C-123 aircraft (known to have been used to spray an herbicide agent during the Vietnam era) were exposed to Agent Orange.