An Agent Orange settlement fund was ordered split today into a $150 million death and disability pool and a $45 million foundation to address problems of the toxic defoliant's victims.
An estimated 600,000 veterans were exposed to Agent Orange, a herbicide containing dioxin, during the Vietnam war. About 245,000 claims have been filed. With a sliding scale for 10 years of insurance payments, the average disabled veteran could get about $9,600.
U.S. District Court Judge Jack Weinstein issued a 174-page decision for distributing the nearly $200 million fund set up in an out-of-court settlement last May by seven manufacturers of Agent Orange.
Frank McCarthy, president of Vietnam Veterans Agent Orange Victims Inc., called the disbursement program "the end of legal fighting and the beginning of a new era." He praised Weinstein's instructions that children with birth defects be given special attention.
Weinstein said "distribution cannot begin until appeals are decided" next year, but recommended a board of directors be appointed by the court to set up the distribution process.
Veterans blame exposure to Agent Orange for illnesses ranging from cancer to skin rashes, birth defects in their children and miscarriages by their wives.
Under the settlement, the manufacturers -- including Dow Chemical, Uniroyal and Hercules Inc. -- established a $180 million Agent Orange fund for veterans and their families injured by exposure to the defoliant. The fund has grown to about $200 million because of interest payments.
The $45 million foundation is to be run by veterans. Most of the remaining money is to be distributed as death and disability benefits to veterans and their families, Weinstein said.
"In essence, an insurance policy for death and disability during the period from 1970 to 1995 will be purchased for $150 million, covering each of an estimated 600,000 United States Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange," he said.
For disabilities that began before Jan. 2, payments averaging $9,600 will be awarded to each victim, with a maximum payment of $12,800. For disabilities that began after Jan. 2, awards will average $2,400, with a maximum payment of $7,300.
An average of $3,400 will be paid to survivors for Agent Orange-related deaths that occurred before Jan. 2. For deaths after Jan. 2, an average of $1,000 will be paid, to a maximum $3,400, he said. There will be no payments for deaths after age 60.
Michael F. Ryan, one of the veterans who sued, said he was "angry, really angry" about the decision, saying there was no specific provision for the veterans' children born with defects. "My daughter was genetically drafted with me. She is a Vietnam veteran," he said of Kerry Ryan, 14, who was born with 22 defects.