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Chester County Press

State lawmakers offer support for Pa. Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange

State lawmakers introduced legislation that would create a task force on Agent Orange -- a blend of herbicides used during the Vietnam War.

Agent Orange was banned when evidence of the harmful and sometimes deadly results of exposure to it began to emerge. Those who were exposed to Agent Orange are at risk of developing cancers, neurological and psychological conditions, and other long-term effects to the skin and heart. Exposure to Agent Orange can also cause reproductive health problems and birth defects in the children of veterans, including spina bifida, hip dysplasia, and congenital heart disease.

The task force would comprise several members of military organizations and members of the PA House and PA Senate to investigate and form recommendations on how best to communicate with veterans affected by Agent Orange concerning the treatment options available to them.

This bipartisan legislation was introduced by state representatives Paul Takac, D-Centre; Mike Cabell, R-Luzerne; Brian Munroe, D-Bucks; Dane Watro, R-Schuylkill/Luzerne; Tarik Khan, D-Phila.; Zachary Mako, R-Northampton/Lehigh; Chris Pielli, D-Chester; and Abby Major, R-Armstrong/Westmoreland.

“We owe all those who have served our country, especially those who have been harmed as a result of their service, not only our profound respect and gratitude but an enduring commitment to serve and support them and their families,” Takac said. “That, of course, includes Vietnam-era veterans who were exposed to -- and at the time, unknowingly harmed by -- Agent Orange. As our understanding of the extent of the damage caused by that chemical exposure has grown and evolved, so have the programs and benefits available to those affected.” 

“Since taking office, one of my areas of focus has been ensuring that veterans and their families are aware of and can more easily access all of the benefits and support available to them,” he said. “Therefore, I am proud to stand with this bipartisan group of PA House members, many of whom are themselves veterans, in support of this bill to create a task force to ensure that we honor our solemn commitments to those who have served and sacrificed for our country.”

“Veterans come into my offices just about every day looking for help, and I have always pledged to do whatever I can for those who served our nation. That’s why I feel it is my moral obligation to support this proposed legislation,” Cabell said. “Agent Orange exposure has had lifelong impacts on some of our brave soldiers who fought in Vietnam, so assisting them in any way we can is certainly the right thing for us to do.”

According to, as recent as 2022, there are roughly 231,500 veterans in Pennsylvania who served during the Vietnam War.

“Almost 50 years after the fall of Saigon, our Vietnam veterans still have questions on the health impacts of and treatment for Agent Orange,” Munroe said. “This taskforce would help get them the answers they deserve.”

“We should do anything we can to help and support veterans who we asked to serve our great country. These are men and women who returned home from Vietnam without a hero’s welcome and are now impacted by exposure to Agent Orange. I humbly ask my colleagues to support this initiative, which is long overdue,” Watro said. “This issue is personal for me as my uncle is one of those Vietnam veterans. He is now blind and struggles with his daily activities. A little relief for him would be welcome and so well deserved.”

Pennsylvania has the third-largest veteran population in the United States.

"As a child, I remember my mom telling me about her classmates from Northwest Philadelphia who served and died in Vietnam,” Khan said. “Sadly, many of our Vietnam vets and their families continue to suffer the pernicious effects of their exposure to Agent Orange during the war. It's past time they and their families get access to the disability benefits they deserve. This bill will move us closer to getting our vets the justice they are due.”

As many as 3 million United States military personnel served in regions and years when the chemical was being used, and more than 300,000 veterans have died from exposure to Agent Orange.

“Countless veterans have suffered, and some have died slow and horrible deaths due to the lethal impacts of Agent Orange. This insidious exposure has even reached beyond the veterans themselves and has affected their children with a variety of birth defects,” said Pielli. “When we rely on and ask our young men and women to serve our country and endure extreme sacrifices, we must do everything in our power to support their physical, emotional, and financial needs upon their hopeful return. That is why I’m strongly behind this bill and urge my colleagues to lend their support.”    

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers several benefits to veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange; however, the PA Department of Military and Veterans Affairs estimates there are a number of veterans in Pennsylvania who qualify but are not yet receiving VA benefits.

“As a veteran, I know there is confusion about what benefits and services are available to the men and women who bravely served our country,” Major said. “Those who were exposed to Agent Orange while in the military face additional long-term health issues, which entitle them to further assistance. This resolution will ensure they better understand opportunities available to them in order to address the effects of the chemical exposure.”

The legislators introducing the legislation said they are hopeful that taking care of veterans who are still suffering effects from a war that ended almost 50 years ago is an issue the vast majority of legislators in Pennsylvania can see eye-to-eye on.