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Agent Orange: What Veterans Should Know

Reprinted from PN June 2010

Now that VA has expanded the list of associated illnesses, over the next two years thousands of veterans will file claims involving Agent Orange exposure.

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Diabetes, prostate cancer, acute and sub acute peripheral neuropathy, and ischemic heart disease are just a few health conditions the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes as diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure. From 1961 to 1971, the U.S. military used Agent Orange—a mixture of herbicides—in the Vietnam War to remove leaves from trees that served as “cover” for the enemy (1). The U.S. military coined the name “Agent Orange” after the orange-striped containers that stored the blend of herbicides (2). VA reports that during the Vietnam War, the U.S. used significant amounts of Agent Orange in:

  • Inland forests near the demarcation zone.
  • Inland forests at the junction of the borders of Cambodia, Laos, and South Vietnam.
  • Inland forests north and northwest of Saigon.
  • Mangrove forests on the southern most peninsula of Vietnam.
  • Mangrove forests along major shipping channels southeast of Saigon (3) VA also acknowledges that U.S. military personnel may have been exposed to Agent Orange in Korea in 1968–1969. Republic of Korea forces used Agent Orange from the Civilian Control line to the Demilitarized Zone during this period (4).

Recent Changes in VA Claims Processing

VA continues to serve as a leader in the medical community conducting research and monitoring recent developments surrounding Agent Orange to ensure the department’s services and policies are accurately aligned with veterans’ healthcare needs. Most recently, VA expanded its list of presumptive illnesses to include Parkinson’s disease, ischemic heart disease, and B-cell leukemia. VA predicts that with this expansion of associated illnesses, approximately 200,000 veterans will file claims involving Agent Orange exposure within the next two years (5). With the influx of veterans forecasted to file claims involving Agent Orange, VA is working to set the new “fast track” claims process in motion.

It’s Automated

In March 2010, VA announced a new initiative to implement an automated system to “fast track” veterans’ claims involving Agent Orange. The new initiative will create a “fast track” claims process for service-connected illnesses that are identified by VA as diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange. The goal of the new process is to decrease the initial processing time of veterans’ claims involving Agent Orange, before adjudication, to ensure that veterans receive timely decisions.

Under this initiative, a technologically advanced automated system will promptly identify any missing information in a veteran’s claim that would prevent it from moving forward to a claims adjudicator. VA has also eliminated the “proof of an association” requirement to decrease the processing time for Agent Orange claims.

If a veteran served in the Vietnam War and has an illness VA identifies as “covered by the ‘presumption of service connection,’ proof of an association between the medical condition(s)and military service is not necessary for further adjudication”(6). Illnesses listed by VA as having an association with Agent Orange exposure are covered by the “presumption of service connection.

”In addition to the aforementioned Parkinson’s disease, ischemic heart disease, and B-cell leukemias, VA’s list of diseases associated with Agent Orange includes (but is not limited to) the following:

  • Acute and sub acute peripheral neuropathy.
  • AL amyloidosis.
  • Diabetes mellitus (type 2).
  • Hodgkin’s disease.
  • Respiratory cancer.
  • Prostate cancer (7) For a complete list and description of all diseases, visit The Department of Veteran Affairs.

VA Services and Agent Orange

Since the late 1970s, VA has collected information and conducted research on the potential health risks associated with Agent Orange exposure. VA maintains an Agent Orange Registry that monitors and collects information regarding specific health concerns of veterans who were potentially exposed to Agent Orange (8). To maintain and collect information for the registry, VA provides a “cost-free” Agent Orange Registry Health Exam that includes a physical exam, laboratory tests, and collection of veterans’ exposure and medical histories.

After the exam, veterans have an opportunity to meet with a VA health professional to review the results. Veterans are eligible for a “cost-free” exam if they served in Vietnam or elsewhere where Agent Orange was sprayed, or if they served aboard smaller river patrol and swift boats that operated on the inland waterways of Vietnam (9). VA does not require that veterans enroll in the VA healthcare system to qualify for an Agent Orange Registry exam. VA encourages veterans to contact their local VA Environmental Health Coordinator or VA Patient Care Advocate with questions regarding Agent Orange or the Agent Orange Registry.

Disability Compensation

VA provides monetary assistance to eligible veterans battling the effects of Agent Orange. Veterans may be eligible to receive disability compensation if they are diagnosed with a condition that is included on VA’s list of veterans’ diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure and have completed the claims process. Additionally, vets have a service-related disability and have been discharged from the military under other than dishonorable conditions (10).VA has specific disability compensation eligibility requirements for veterans who served in Vietnam and those who were exposed to herbicides like Agent Orange outside Vietnam.

Specifically, individuals who served in Vietnam are eligible for disability compensation for a disease associated with Agent Orange if they served in country Vietnam between 1962 and 1975 and have a disease that VA recognizes as associated with Agent Orange exposure (11). On the other hand, veterans who did not serve in Vietnam but have a disease VA recognizes as associated with Agent Orange may be eligible for service-connection on a “direct basis.” In these circumstances, they must show they were exposed to Agent Orange or another herbicide during military service. They may apply for disability compensation by contacting a Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) national service officer (NSO). (See PVA Service Office Roster, p. 59, or visit www.pva.org or the VA Web site.)

Balancing Timeliness and Quality

Part of maintaining good health is to remain informed of individual health benefits and invest in preventive measures when possible. You should be informed of VA services that are geared toward addressing the effects of Agent Orange exposure by regularly visiting VA’s Web site. You can also frequently check with VA health professionals to learn about recent updates involving Agent Orange and the registry. While it is important that VA process Agent Orange claims in a timely manner, the quality of claims processing is equally important to ensuring you receive adequate care and benefits. To maintain a proper balance of timeliness and quality during the claims process, seek assistance from your VA regional office or contact veterans service organizations like PVA to solicit help from NSOs located throughout the country. Receiving proper care and benefits is essential to all veterans living healthy and active lives.

Contact: PVA Health Policy Program, Veterans Benefits Department, 800-424-8200.

 

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Agent Orange: What Veterans Should Know

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