WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs has reversed its denial of Agent Orange-related disability benefits for an Air Force veteran who flew on potentially contaminated C-123 aircraft after the Vietnam War, a decision advocates describe as the first of its kind for veterans seeking compensation for postwar exposure to the toxic defoliant.

Paul Bailey, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who is gravely ill with cancer, received notice Monday that he would receive “a total grant of benefits” for cancer associated with his 1970s-era service in the United States aboard the aircraft, which had been used to spray the toxic defoliant during the war.

“The preponderance of the evidence suggests that you were exposed to herbicide onboard U.S. Air Force C-123K aircrafts,” said the VA decision, dated July 31. “Reasonable doubt in regards to the exposure to certain herbicide, to include Agent Orange, as the result of occupational hazards onboard C-123K aircrafts is resolved in your favor.”

Bailey was featured in a recent Washington Post article about a controversy concerning C-123 aircraft, many of which were destroyed in 2010 by the Air Force. Tests in the 1990s showed that some of the planes might still be contaminated with TCDD dioxin, a carcinogen associated with Agent Orange.

Bailey, 67, who suffers from prostate cancer and metastatic cancer of the pelvis and ribs, said the disability compensation will allow his wife to stay in their New Hampshire home after he dies.

“The financial and emotional support this provides is just tremendous,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “It takes a huge burden off me.”

The decision is “greatly significant,” said Wes Carter, a retired Air Force major and friend of Bailey’s who heads the C-123 Veterans Association.

The organization contends that postwar crews should be eligible for the same disability compensation for Agent Orange exposure provided to military veterans who served in Vietnam during the war.

Several C-123 veterans in recent years have been granted disability benefits after appealing denials to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, an administrative tribunal. But Bailey’s case marks “the first time an award has been made short of the BVA,” Carter said.