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Agent Orange Settlement Fund
During the past decade, the Department of Veterans Affairs has received many inquiries regarding the Agent Orange Settlement Fund. That Fund, created as a result of a private class action lawsuit settlement, involved neither VA nor any other executive branch agency of the Federal government. The Settlement Fund closed in 1997. Below is a brief history.
The Agent Orange Settlement Fund was created by the resolution of the Agent Orange Product Liability Litigation – a class action lawsuit brought by Vietnam Veterans and their families regarding injuries allegedly incurred as a result of the exposure of Vietnam Veterans to chemical herbicides used during the Vietnam war. The suit was brought against the major manufacturers of these herbicides. The class action case was settled out-of-court in 1984 for $180 million dollars, reportedly the largest settlement of its kind at that time.
The Settlement Fund was distributed to class members in accordance with a distribution plan established by United States District Court Judge Jack B. Weinstein, who presided over the litigation and the settlement. Because the plaintiff class was so large (an estimated 10 million people), the Fund was distributed to class members in the United States through two separate programs designed to provide maximum benefits to Vietnam Veterans and their families most in need of assistance:
- A Payment Program, which provided cash compensation to totally-disabled Veterans and survivors of deceased Veterans; and
- A Class Assistance Program, which provided funds for social services organizations and networks for the purpose of establishing and maintaining programs for the benefit of the class as a whole.
This plan for distributing the Settlement Fund was unprecedented: it employed mechanisms not previously adopted in class action lawsuits in order to maximize benefits to class members and to respond to the complex needs expressed by the class during a series of “Fairness Hearings” held in six different locations in the country.
Applications for the Payment Program had to be submitted prior to December 31, 1994. To be eligible for compensation under the Payment Program, Vietnam Veterans or their survivors had to establish the following:
- that the Veteran served in Vietnam as a member of the Armed Forces between 1962 and 1972 (the period during which Agent Orange was used in Vietnam);
- that the applicant was either a totally-disabled Vietnam Veteran or the survivor of a deceased Vietnam Veteran;
- that based upon the circumstances of the Veteran’s service (including location of service and particular experiences during service), the Veteran met a test of probable exposure to herbicides;
- that death or disability was not caused by a traumatic or accidental occurrence; and
- that death or disability occurred before December 31, 1994.
The Payment Program operated over a period of 6 years, beginning, after appeals, in 1988 and concluding in 1994. During its operation, the Settlement Fund distributed a total of $197 million in cash payments to members of the class in the United States. Of the 105,000 claims received by the Payment Program, approximately 52,000 Vietnam Veterans or their survivors received cash payments which averaged about $3,800 each.
The other part of the Settlement Fund, the Class Assistance Program, was intended by the distribution plan to function as a foundation. Between 1989 and 1996 it distributed, through a series of Requests for Proposal, $74 million to 83 social services organizations throughout the United States. These agencies, which ranged from disability and Veterans service organizations to community-based not-for-profits, provided counseling, advocacy, medical and case-management services. During this period, these organizations assisted over 239,000 Vietnam Veterans and their families.
On September 27, 1997, the District Court ordered the Fund closed, its assets having been fully distributed.