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Spina Bifida and Agent Orange

VA presumes that spina bifida in biological children of certain Vietnam-era Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange was caused by the Veterans’ military service. Eligible children may receive VA benefits.

About spina bifida

Spina bifida is a condition in which the spine fails to close properly during pregnancy.

Surgery to close the infant's back and to protect the spinal cord is generally performed within 24 hours after birth to minimize the risk of infection and to preserve existing function in the spinal cord.

People born with spina bifida may need other surgeries and extensive medical care because of the potential paralysis resulting from the damage to the spinal cord. Hydrocephalus also can be controlled by a surgical procedure, which relieves the fluid build up by redirecting it to the abdominal area. Because of medical advances, most children born with spina bifida live well into adulthood.

Symptoms depend on the type and severity, a person with spina bifida may have nerve damage, paralysis and be unable to walk, and have problems with their bowels or bladder. Sometimes spina bifida can cause hydrocephalus, or fluid in the brain.

VA benefits for children with spina bifida

Children who have spina bifida (except spina bifida occulta) and meet the following requirements may be eligible for VA compensation, health care, and vocational training:

  • Are biological children of Veterans who served:
    • In Vietnam or Thailand during the period from January 9, 1962 through May 7, 1975, or
    • In or near the Korean demilitarized zone between September 1, 1967 and August 31, 1971 and were exposed to herbicides. Veterans who served in a unit in or near the Korean demilitarized zone anytime between September 1, 1967 and August 31, 1971 are presumed to have been exposed to herbicides
  • Were conceived after the date on which the Veteran first entered Vietnam, Thailand, or the Korean demilitarized zone during the qualifying service period

Learn more about benefits for children with birth defects and how to apply.

Research on spina bifida and herbicides

The Health and Medicine Division (formally known as the Institute of Medicine) of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) concluded in its report, Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 1996 Summary and Research Highlights, that there is limited or suggestive evidence of an association between exposure to herbicides used in Vietnam and spina bifida in children of Vietnam Veterans.

In Veterans and Agent Orange Update 2014 and Veterans and Agent Orange 2018, NASEM did not find any new significant associations between exposure to herbicides used in Vietnam and adverse outcomes in future generations. Furthermore, the committee has changed the previous categorization of exposure to the chemicals of interest and spina bifida from limited or suggestive evidence to inadequate or insufficient evidence.

View more research on health effects of Agent Orange.


Birth Defects Benefits

TDD (Hearing Impaired)