Agent Orange retroactive compensation

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By Donald Mustard

In March and April of this year, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) made a couple of important announcements concerning the Agent Orange (AO) disability program.   These included an announcement of the proposed rule published March 25 in the Federal Register stating that about 86,000 Vietnam War veterans, their surviving spouse or estate will be eligible for retroactive disability compensation from the VA – an average of 11.4 years for the veteran and 9.6 years for survivors.

    The 86,000 are beneficiaries who can reopen previously denied claims for Ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, and chronic B-cell cancers including hairy cell leukemia.  Another 29,000 claims are expected to be approved this year for Vietnam veterans suffering from these diseases but applying for the first time.

    The projected cost of this expansion of claims linked to AO is $13.6 billion this fiscal year and $42.2 billion over 10 years.  VA plans to hire 1,772 new claims processors, starting October, to be able to handle these claims “without significantly degrading the processing of the non-presumptive workload.” 

    A final rule is expected to be published shortly after April 26 permitting the VA office to begin making payments.  Veterans with these diseases will have to show they set foot in Vietnam sometime between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975.  Normally your DD-214 will contain information about campaign medals etc that will confirm your presence in Vietnam.

    The addition of ischemic heart diseases to the list of presumptive AO illnesses is by far the most significant part of the new rule, accounting for 82 percent of retroactive payments to beneficiaries.    VA assumes that veterans with Parkinson’s disease or B-Cell leukemia will be granted 100 percent rating.  The average rating for Ischemic heat disease is expected to be 60, percent.

    It is expected many veterans will file claims for hypertension but those will be denied because that condition is “not a heart disease under the draft regulation”.

    Veterans who served in Vietnam during the period January 9, 1968, and May 7, 1975, are considered to have met the requirement of “Boots on the Ground” and are therefore presumed to have been exposed to the AO toxin.

    VA maintains that Blue Water Navy veterans must prove they actually set foot on ground in Vietnam in order to meet the presumptive requirement.  Those veterans whose vessels traveled up river into the waterway of Vietnam are eligible.

    Blue Water Navy veterans whose vessels actually tied up to a dock in Vietnam is enough to entitle a veteran to the presumption of exposure to the AO toxin.

    Mr. John Maki, assistant national service director for Disabled American Veterans stated “Entitlements to benefits only occurs with final publication of the regulation.  Retroactive payments usually will be made back to the date a claim was filed for presumptive disease.”

    If you know of a veteran or a survivor of a veteran who may be affected by this new ruling, please do them a favor by calling this article to their attention.  I am fairly certain there are widows of deceased veterans whose death was caused by a disability recently added to those disabilities presumed to have been caused by exposure to the Agent Orange toxin but who have never filed a claim for benefits or the claim for widow pension was denied.  Under the new ruling it is possible to reopen or submit a new claim for service connection by the veteran or service connected death by the widow.

    In 2007, the Bush administration went to court to challenge the legal need for National Academy of Sciences studies on presumptive AO diseases to continue.  The court decided the studies were needed and will continue through October 1, 2014.  This may result in additional diseases found to have an association with herbicide exposure.

    For information contact the Service Officer for DAV Chapter 8, VFW Post 8184, and AL Post 16 at 434-237-0229.  The office located in the Marine Corps League Bldg at 2337 Lakeside Drive, Lynchburg, VA and is open for walk-ins on Tuesday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m and by appointment on Thursday.

    Sources for this article were www.Military.com and WWW.legion.org, both dated April 1, 2010.