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Agent Orange Litigation

Agent Orange and Its Impact on Vietnam Veterans and Their Families

A toxic combination of chemicals known as “Agent Orange” was heavily utilized by the U.S. military in Vietnam between 1961 and 1972. This substance, which contained, inter alia, the chemical Dioxin, was applied to the jungle canopy throughout Vietnam, often from aircraft, in order to kill the jungle cover claimed by North Vietnamese and Vietcong troops.

The health impact of these chemicals did not take long to manifest, both in the U.S. service members and the Vietnamese exposed to it. See Fred A. Wilcox, Waiting for an Army to Die: The Tragedy of Agent Orange, (Random House 1983); Thomas Whiteside, Pendulum and the Toxic Cloud: Course of Dioxin Contamination (Yale University Press 1979). Some died quickly. Many soon experienced severe rashes and tumors. Later, exposure victims were diagnosed with cancers, nervous system damage, and other chronic conditions. In many cases, children of exposure victims were born with serious birth defects.

In 1979, Hy Mayerson and the Mayerson Law Offices, supported by the opinion of Board Certified Internist Ronald A. Codario, M.D., began the representation of Sergeant Charles Hartz, a Vietnam special forces solider and member of Tiger Force Recon, 1st Battalion of the 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. Sgt. Hartz had been exposed to Agent Orange during his service and had subsequently developed terminal brain cancer. As his cancer advanced, his days were numbered, but he was able to courageously tell his story through one of the first videotaped depositions to be conducted in Pennsylvania for the purpose of preserving the testimony of Sgt. Hartz, with the understanding that he would not live to see the trial.

Sgt. Hartz’s case was the first filed in Pennsylvania. It would later become part of the nationwide multi-district litigation (MDL) conducted in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

After five years of litigation, seven of the companies responsible for manufacturing Agent Orange agreed to pay $180 million in compensation to veterans who had been sickened by the substance and their families. By the time the settlement was confirmed by the United States Supreme Court in 1988, the accruing interest had increased the amount to $240 million, finally delivering some measure of justice to these brave souls and their long-suffering families.

Most Agent Orange-exposed veterans saw their complaints of symptoms brushed off by the Veterans Administration (VA) and other medical professionals. Thanks to the compassion and efforts of pioneering attorneys and medical professionals, such as Ronald Codario, M.D., the dangers of Agent Orange and other similar chemicals were revealed to the world and veterans afflicted by it received some vindication for the physical and mental impacts they experienced. Likely in no small part due to the work put into and the ultimate success of the Agent Orange Products Liability Litigation, President George H. W. Bush signed legislation in 1991 that granted presumptive service connected status for Veterans Disability Compensation purposes, to several cancers and the skin condition chloracne for veterans who served on Vietnamese soil.

For his efforts in gaining recognition and compensation for victims of Agent Orange exposure, Hy received a personal letter of congratulations from renowned inventor and theorist R. Buckminster Fuller and was recognized on the Veterans Wall in our nation’s Capital.