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Proposed Agent Orange task force would help Pennsylvania veterans access benefits

A C-123 flies low along a South Vietnamese highway spraying defoliants on dense jungle growth.
AP Photo
Department Of Defense
In this May 1966 file photo, a U.S. Air Force C-123 flies low along a South Vietnamese highway spraying defoliants on dense jungle growth beside the road to eliminate ambush sites for the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. During the Vietnam War, Air Force C-123 planes sprayed millions of gallons of herbicides over the jungles of Southeast Asia to destroy enemy crops and tree cover. The military stopped the spraying by early 1971, but some Air Force Reserve units continued to fly the former spray planes until the early 1980s.

Exposure to Agent Orange and its negative effects is one of the lasting impacts of the Vietnam War. Now, a state representative from Centre County is introducing legislation to help connect Pennsylvania veterans and their families with the benefits available to them.

“We have a growing awareness of some of the harmful effects of chemical exposures and other things. And we need to make sure that we help veterans and their families get all of the resources that are available to them," said state Representative Paul Takac, D-Centre County, prime sponsor of the legislation.

There are more than 230,000 Pennsylvania residents who served in the military during the Vietnam Era.

The legislation has bipartisan support. Takac said, if passed, it will create a task force on Agent Orange to assess how much veterans are aware of the benefits available to them, who’s eligible and what barriers there are to accessing their benefits.

It follows passage of the federal PACT Act, signed into law by President Biden in August 2022. The PACT Act expands the health care and benefits available to veterans exposed to Agent Orange, burn pits and other toxic materials.

“There are a wide range of cancers that have been linked to exposure to Agent Orange, as well as other neurological and psychological conditions, as well as birth defects, which have affected the next generation," Takac said. "So there's an awful lot of folks out there that have been negatively impacted by these exposures.”

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Anne Danahy is a reporter at WPSU. She was a reporter for nearly 12 years at the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania, where she earned a number of awards for her coverage of issues including the impact of natural gas development on communities.