To get compensation benefits for your disability you have to be service-connected. We know that there are five ways to do that (see here) and the most common way is direct service connection. We also know getting direct service connection could prove more difficult than it should be. Thankfully, there are other ways available to veterans in certain circumstances to get service connected. We saw, in these two previous blog posts, that Gulf War veterans are afforded certain presumptions to have certain disabilities service connected. The same applies for Vietnam veterans.
Vietnam veterans and some veterans who served along the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ) have an additional opportunity to qualify for compensation benefits. The VA has recognized certain cancers and other health problems as presumptive diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service. Veterans and their survivors may be eligible for benefits if they have one of the diseases recognized as being connected to Agent Orange exposure, or the residuals of one of these diseases, through presumptive service connection.
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military used many herbicides as part of its herbicidal warfare program between 1961 and 1971. There are other types of herbicides, such as Agent Blue, White, Purple, Brown, Green and Pink, but Agent Orange was the most widely used and is usually known as the collective term to describe herbicides. Agent Orange was made from a combination of two herbicides, 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T which are chlorinated phenoxy acids. Most of the harm caused by Agent Orange is due to the compound known as dioxin. Exposure to Agent Orange has been associated with a variety of adverse health effects. For a more detailed explanation of Agent Orange and herbicides, click here.
The VA works with the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, who reviews the scientific evidence on links between dioxin exposure and diseases. The IOM issues reports on the scientific evidence and the VA must decide whether a disease should be presumptively service connected. If the IOM report and additional evidence exists that shows a positive association between Agent Orange and a disease, the VA has to provide presumptive service connection for that disease. The key is for the evidence supporting an association to outweigh the evidence against that association, then the VA must provide presumptive service connection for that disease.
There have already been ten reports on the health effects of Agent Orange, with special reports on the link between diabetes and Agent Orange, acute myelogenous leukemia in the children of Vietnam veterans, the length of the presumptive period for an association between Agent Orange exposure and respiratory cancer, and Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans and Agent Orange exposure. As a result of the IOM reports, the VA has added many diseases to the list of diseases presumed to be connected to Agent Orange exposure. You can find the complete list here, which includes AL Amyloidosis, Chronic B-cell Leukemias, Chloracne, Diabetes Mellitus Type 2, Hodgkin’s Disease, Ischemic Heart Disease, Multiple Myeloma, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Parkinsons Disease, Peripheral Neuropathy (Early-Onset), Porphyria Cutanea Tarda, Prostate Cancer, Respiratory Cancers, and Soft Tissue Sarcomas. There are also certain birth defects in children of Vietnam and Korea Veterans that are associated with veteran’s qualifying military service. The VA also presumes Lou Gehrigs Disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS) diagnosed in all veterans who had 90 days or more continuous active military service is related to their service, even though ALS is not related to Agent Orange exposure.
Remember that qualifying for compensation benefits involves several steps that can be found here. In addition to that, to qualify for presumptive service connection based on Agent Orange exposure, a veteran needs to satisfy two or three requirements:
- The veteran was exposed to Agent Orange
- The veteran currently has one of the diseases, or residuals of one of the diseases, recognized by the VA as being linked to Agent Orange exposure
- They have to have the disability to a disabling degree of 10% or more
- For some of the recognized non-cancer diseases, the disease had to have manifested itself within one year from the last day of exposure to Agent Orange.
The first step to qualify for disability compensation based on Agent Orange exposure is proving that you were exposed to Agent Orange. If you served in Vietnam during the Vietnam era, or along the Korean demilitarized zone between April 1, 1968 and August 31, 1971, you are automatically presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. If you did not have such service, you may still be eligible but you have to prove actual exposure to Agent Orange on a factual basis. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be difficult to prove. There are other locations where veterans may have been exposed to Agent Orange, such as in Thailand.
The next post will go into further detail on the requirements for qualifying for presumptive service connection for Agent Orange exposure.