Here is a common scenario: a veteran is told that his diabetes condition may have been caused by his time in service. For Vietnam veterans especially, this is a widespread occurrence. The veteran decides to file a claim with the VA. The form he is told to fill out in order to file the application is very confusing. It reminds him too much of those darned tax forms he has to deal with every year. Frustrated, in the haze of boxes and lines, he lists his condition as “Agent Orange”—because he does not know what else to put.
Two months later, he receives a letter from the Veterans Benefits Administration telling him that his claim has been denied. The veteran does not understand why. As it turns out, the application had stated that he was claiming Agent Orange as a condition, as opposed to a cause of the condition.
The VA currently has 371,243 pending disability compensation claims. This is a truly staggering number, but not wholly surprising considering that there are 21.8 million veterans in the United States, 1.3 million of which served in multiple wars. The VA has identified approximately 4 million veterans who are currently receiving compensation and pension benefits. That is only about 18% of the veteran population in the US!
When you think about these statistics, it is only reasonable to assume that VA claims processors have to work at the speed of light just to make a dent in the stacks of claims and paperwork overflowing their desks. Granted, most of what they handle is now stored electronically. Therefore, it is understandable (although not wholly forgivable) that when a claims processor receives a claim with little or incorrect information, the easiest course of action is to turn down the claim.
The hurdle, then, is understanding how the forms need to be filled out in order for the VA staff members to process them quickly and accurately. The most important thing to keep in mind that the VA is looking for the conditions that the veteran believes to be related to service, and the cause of those conditions. In this veteran’s case, he was attempting to file a claim for Diabetes Mellitus II, as caused by exposure to Agent Orange, as well as when the condition was diagnosed. It is also important to clearly identify the dates of service, and where the veteran served—whether it was in Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, or in the Persian Theatre. The validity of the veteran’s claim depends largely on where the veteran served while in the military. In addition to listing Diabetes Mellitus, it is worth considering what other conditions may be affecting the veteran as a result of diabetes, such as peripheral neuropathy.
Under the Agent Orange Acts of 1991, 2009 and 2011, the VA identifies 14 diseases which are presumed to be caused by Agent Orange under specific conditions. These diseases include:
- AL amyloidosis
- Chloracne or other acneform disease consistent with chloracne
- Type 2 diabetes (also known as Type II diabetes mellitus or adult-onset diabetes)
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Ischemic heart disease
- All chronic B-cell leukemias
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Parkinson’s disease
- Early-onset peripheral neuropathy
- Porphyria cutanea tarda
- Prostate cancer
- Respiratory cancers (cancer of the lung, bronchus, larynx, or trachea)
- Soft-tissue sarcoma (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma)
The Agent Orange Act established that a veteran who, during active military, naval, or air service, served in the Republic of Vietnam during the period beginning on January 9, 1962, and ending on May 7, 1975, shall be presumed to have been exposed during such service to Agent Orange. Later, the VA further defined this by limiting the presumption to veterans who served:
- In Vietnam anytime between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975, including brief visits ashore or service aboard a ship that operated on the inland waterways of Vietnam;
- In or near the Korean demilitarized zone anytime between April 1, 1968 and August 31, 197
Until recently, Navy veterans struggled the most in meeting the requirements of this presumption. Navy veterans who served in Brown Water (defined as inland waterways or rivers) usually have little trouble in meeting the presumption, because the VA assumes that sailors patrolling the rivers would have the most contact with the herbicides. However, the Blue Water veterans—sailors who never went ashore or patrolled the rivers and waterways—have a much more difficult time with the presumption. The VA assumes, in their case, that sailors serving away from the shoreline would have little to no contact with the herbicides. Fortunately for these veterans, recent studies have proved the opposite. For example, ships in the near shore marine waters collected water that was contaminated with the runoff from areas sprayed with Agent Orange. The distillation process actually enriched the effects of the Agent Orange. Therefore, sailors on board those ships were actively been infected by Agent Orange.
As a result of the recent research, a new bill is being pushed in Congress to include Blue Water veterans to the Agent Orange Act. Now is the perfect time to file that claim for Diabetes Mellitus if you served off the shores of Vietnam. Justice might be delayed, but it’s definitely coming.