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Agent Orange: Limited Information Is Available on the Number of Civilians Exposed in Vietnam and Their Workers' Compensation Claims

GAO-05-371 Published: Apr 22, 2005. Publicly Released: Apr 22, 2005.
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Concerns about difficulties civilian employees of the U.S. government may have in obtaining workers' compensation benefits for medical conditions they developed as a result of their exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam led to GAO being asked to determine (1) what is known about the number of civilians who served in Vietnam, both those employed directly by the U.S. government and those employed by companies that contracted with the government; (2) what is known about the number, processing, and disposition of claims filed by these civilians; and (3) what options are available if Congress chooses to improve access to benefits for civilians exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam who developed illnesses as a result of their exposure, and what are their cost implications?


Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Labor To improve the handling of civilian Agent Orange claims, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs to assign a unique identifying code to Agent Orange claims and develop procedures to ensure that these claims are coded correctly.
Closed – Implemented
In May 2005, Labor's case management system for the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA) was modified to accommodate a new prefix (DX) for cases reporting injuries sustained as a result of exposure to Agent Orange. In December 2005, the FECA Procedure Manual was updated to reflect the new code. In addition, Labor's Long Shore Case Management System was changed in March 2005 to record and preserve a unique injury code for Agent Orange claims as well as requiring a country code for Vietnam. The accuracy of data entered in both systems will be subject to Labor's current performance measures and standards.
Department of Labor To improve the handling of civilian Agent Orange claims, the Secretary of Labor should provide better oversight of licensed Defense Base Act (DBA) insurance carriers by requiring the Office of Longshore and Harbor Workers to track the information it retains on licensed insurance carriers for Vietnam era employers in an easily searchable format, such as in an automated file, and track changes in ownership for each licensed carrier in order to be able to determine liability for payments.
Closed – Not Implemented
In August 2007, the Longshore Program reported that it has not implemented any database action on insurance records since the report was issued in 2005. The program does not have funding for revising its database. If funding is received, back filling insurance cards from the Vietnam Era will be included in the priorities for system upgrades. However, the problem of tracking the successive ownership changes of the carriers over the years remains and no systematic way to reconstruct these historical changes has been identified. The Longshore National Office does have some, though not all, historical insurance records that may be useful in this regard. District Office staff are instructed to request National Office assistance if the responsible carrier cannot be identified. There has been no change in the agency's response in FY08 or FY 09 for tracking insurance carrier information from the Vietnam era, however, the agency has indicated it is looking at the feasibility of maintaining insurance carrier information for civilians involved in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts in the future.
Department of Labor To improve the handling of civilian Agent Orange claims, the Secretary of Labor should direct the appropriate offices to provide contract employees with the information needed to file Agent Orange claims by taking such measures as posting information on Labor's Web sites or developing informational brochures that include information on how to file a claim under DBA, such as which forms to use, and information on Vietnam era contractors with the names of their insurance carriers licensed by Labor.
Closed – Implemented
The Longshore Program website has been enhanced to direct potential claimants to the existing Defense Base Act (DBA) question and answer web page, where the information and forms for submitting claims are already available at Furthermore, this section has been specifically updated with reference to claims arising from Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. This update was implemented in May 2005. As for posting information on Vietnam era contractors, Labor agrees to preserve information it still has on Vietnam era employment. All Defense Base Contractors are listed on Longshore website.

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