For many years veterans that had been exposed to Agent Orange during active duty service were denied VA disability benefits for Agent Orange-related diseases. This was in part due to the fact that it’s often very hard to prove that an illness is caused by Agent Orange. Finally, in 1991, the Agent Orange Act of 1991 was issued and the VA acknowledged that certain diseases were in fact caused by exposure to Agent Orange. So, what does this mean for your claim for disability benefits and Agent Orange benefits? It means for some conditions, you will not have to prove a link between your diagnosis and your military service (Please note, that there are specific rules regarding whether or not a veteran’s exposure to Agent Orange will be presumed. For more information on that, please click here.). In other words, the VA will grant presumptive service connection. The following conditions are presumed to be associated with exposure to Agent Orange:
- AL amyloidosis
- Chloracne or other acneform disease similar to chloracne
- Chronic B-cell leukemias (this includes, but isn’t limited to, hairy-cell leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia)
- Diabetes mellitus type 2
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Ischemic heart disease
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Parkinson’s disease
- Peripheral neuropathy, early-onset
- Porphyria cutanea tarda
- Prostate cancer from Agent Orange
- Respiratory cancers (lung, bronchus, larynx, trachea)
- Soft-tissue sarcoma (must be other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma)
Today’s post will look specifically at multiple myeloma and how to get the most out of your claim for multiple myeloma. Multiple myeloma is a cancer that develops in the bone marrow. Some people with multiple myeloma have no symptoms at all, but some common symptoms of the disease include the following:
- Bone problems: These include pain in the bones (any bone, but typically in the back, hips, and skull), bone weakness, and broken bones.
- Low blood counts: Low amounts of red blood cells, white blood cells, and blood platelets are common with cases of multiple myeloma.
- High blood levels of calcium: This would cause extreme thirst, urinating a lot, dehydration, kidney problems, severe constipation, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, weakness, drowsiness, and confusion.
- Nervous system symptoms: The nervous system can be affected if the myeloma weakens the bones in the spine which then affects the spinal nerves. This can then result in sudden severe back pain, numbness (usually in the legs), and muscle weakness (also usually in the legs).
- Hyperviscosity: Causes the blood to thicken and slow blood flow to the brain resulting in confusion, dizziness, and stroke symptoms.
- Kidney problems: Kidney damage doesn’t cause any symptoms early on, but signs of damage may be seen on a blood or urine test.
- Infections: Someone with multiple myeloma is much more likely to get infections. The most common infection seen in people with multiple myeloma is pneumonia.
If someone has these symptoms, lab tests such as blood and/or urine tests, x-rays of the bones, or a bone marrow biopsy are usually performed to diagnosis multiple myeloma.
Because the VA presumes service connection for veterans exposed to Agent Orange and have a diagnosis of multiple myeloma, the focus can shifts from proving service connection to making sure the VA assigns the correct rating. This is important because the VA frequently makes mistakes when they assign a rating, and that can mean the difference between hundreds or even thousands of benefits.
When rating any condition, the VA looks at specific rating criteria associated with the relevant condition. The rating criteria for each condition can be found by looking up the diagnostic code for the condition. The diagnostic code is a four digit number assigned to a condition, and can be thought of as the identifier for a condition. Not ALL conditions have their own diagnostic code. There are some conditions that are rated under the diagnostic code for another condition. The VA refers to this concept as rating analogously. When rating analogously, the VA will use the rating criteria for the condition that best describes the main symptoms or that has the same treatments. Multiple myeloma is one of the conditions that does not have its own diagnostic code, and is rated analogously under the code for either Hodgkin’s disease (DC 7709) or leukemia (DC 7703).
Hodgkin’s disease is a cancer of the white blood cells that spreads across the lymph nodes. A 100% rating will be assigned if the cancer is active or undergoing treatment. The 100% rating continues for 6 months after the last treatment. Then, the condition is reevaluated and re-rated based on the ongoing symptoms.
Leukemia is a cancer of the blood or bone marrow that causes the over-production of immature white blood cells. A 100% rating is assigned while the cancer is active, and for 6 months after the last treatment. Then the leukemia is rated as anemia or aplastic anemia, whichever gives the higher rating.
Be sure to pay attention to the rating criteria the VA uses to assign a rating for you multiple myeloma claim. It is important that the VA uses the rating criteria that best addresses the symptoms you experience as a result of multiple myeloma in order to ensure the most accurate rating.