Subscribe to Breaking News emails

You have successfully subscribed to the Breaking News email.

Subscribe today to be the first to to know about breaking news and special reports.

U.S. to Pay Benefits to Vets Exposed to Agent Orange in C-123s

 / Updated  / Source: Associated Press
Retired Air Force reserve tech Sgt. Ed Kienle, 73, speaks at his home on June 11 in Wilmington, Ohio. The government says U.S. Air Force reservists who became ill after being exposed to Agent Orange residue while working on planes after the Vietnam War would be eligible for disability benefits. The Department of Veterans Affairs said it has been working to finalize a rule that could cover more than 2,000 military personnel, including Kienle, who flew or worked on Fairchild C-123 aircraft in the U.S. from 1972 to 1982.John Minchillo / AP

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

Ending years of wait, the government agreed Thursday to provide millions of dollars in disability benefits to as many as 2,100 Air Force reservists and active-duty forces exposed to Agent Orange residue on airplanes used in the Vietnam War.

The new federal rule, approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget, takes effect Friday. It adds to an Agent Orange-related caseload that already makes up 1 out of 6 disability checks issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The expected cost over 10 years is $47.5 million, with separate health care coverage adding to the price tag.

"Opening up eligibility for this deserving group of Air Force veterans and reservists is the right thing to do," VA Secretary Bob McDonald said in a statement. He planned to announce the decision in private meetings with veterans' organizations.

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
 Retired Air Force reserve tech Sgt. Ed Kienle, 73, speaks at his home on June 11 in Wilmington, Ohio. The government says U.S. Air Force reservists who became ill after being exposed to Agent Orange residue while working on planes after the Vietnam War would be eligible for disability benefits. The Department of Veterans Affairs said it has been working to finalize a rule that could cover more than 2,000 military personnel, including Kienle, who flew or worked on Fairchild C-123 aircraft in the U.S. from 1972 to 1982. John Minchillo / AP

The new federal rule covers an expanded group of military personnel who flew or worked on Fairchild C-123 aircraft in the U.S. from 1969 to 1986 and were believed to have been exposed to Agent Orange residue. The planes had been used to spray millions of gallons of the chemical herbicide during the Vietnam War.

An Institute of Medicine study released in January concluded that some C-123 reservists stationed in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts had been exposed to Agent Orange residues in the planes and suffered higher risks of health problems as a result.

Undertaking a review of military records, the VA said it subsequently determined that pilots, mechanics and medical personnel who served at seven other locations in the U.S. and abroad also were potentially affected — Florida, Virginia, and Arizona, as well as Taiwan, Panama, South Korea and the Philippines.

Those affected individuals under the new rule will now be eligible to receive disability aid including survivor benefits and medical care. The veterans must show they worked on a contaminated plane and later developed any of 14 medical conditions such as prostate cancer, diabetes and leukemia that the VA has determined to be connected to Agent Orange.

Affected veterans may begin to submit applications for benefits immediately, with VA processing to begin Friday. Pending C-123 claims to the VA do not need to be resubmitted.

 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 in May 1966. Dept. of Defense via AP

In advance of the announcement, veterans' groups expressed tempered relief, expressing hope it would signal a new government willingness to acknowledge a wider range of toxic health risks undertaken by military personnel, such as Gulf War neurotoxins and burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Before requesting the IOM report in 2014, the VA had repeatedly denied claims submitted since 2011 by C-123 reservists, saying it was unlikely they could have been exposed to Agent Orange from the residue.

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
MORE FROM news

Have feedback?

How likely are you to recommend nbcnews.com to a friend or colleague?

0 = Very unlikely
10 = Very likely
Please select answer

Is your feedback about:

Please select answer

Leave your email if you’d like us to respond. (Optional)

Please enter a valid email address

Thank you!

Your feedback has been sent out. Please enjoy more of our content.

We appreciate your help making nbcnews.com a better place.