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​Ranch Hand UC-123 clearing a roadside in central South Vietnam in 1966. Air Force photo.

The Department of Veterans Affairs extended coverage to airmen suffering certain conditions linked to repeated contact with contaminated C-123 Provider aircraft used to spray Agent Orange chemicals during Operation Ranch Hand in Vietnam, officials announced. "Opening up eligibility for this deserving group of Air Force veterans and reservists is the right thing to do," VA Secretary Robert McDonald said in a June 18 release. The decision follows a 2015 report by the Institute of Medicine detailing the health consequences of exposure to dioxin-tainted aircraft, even years after their use in Vietnam, according to the release. "We thank the IOM for its thorough review that provided the supporting evidence needed to ensure we can now fully compensate any former crew member who develops an Agent Orange-related disability," added McDonald. The inquest found that as many as 2,100 Active Duty and Air Force Reserve Command aircrew, maintainers, and aeromedical personnel could have been exposed to harmful chemicals. AFRES personnel who served on the aircraft at Lockbourne/Rickenbacker ANGB, Ohio, Westover AFB, Mass., Pittsburg IAP, Pa., or Active Duty airmen that served on C-123s at several bases between 1969 and 1986 are encouraged to submit compensation claims, according to the VA.  (IOM report) (VA interim final rule.) (See also The Lingering Story of Agent Orange from the January issue of Air Force Magazine.)