In the previous blog post, we discussed how Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and have certain qualifying disabilities are afforded presumptions to be service connected. We also introduced the requirements for getting presumptively service connected: 1) be exposed to agent Orange, 2) have one of the current diseases, or residuals of one of the diseases, recognized by the VA as being linked to Agent Orange exposure to a disabling degree of 10% or more, and 3) for some of the recognized non-cancer diseases, the disease has to have manifested itself within one year from the last day of exposure to Agent Orange.
Vietnam veterans and some veterans who served along the Korean DMZ do not need to prove actual exposure to Agent Orange, or any other herbicide during their service, to qualify for presumptive service connection. The VA must presume that the veteran was exposed if they served in Vietnam or along the Korean DMZ during a certain time period, which would be from January 9, 1962 to May 7, 1975 in Vietnam and April 1, 1968 to August 31, 1971 in Thailand. There is no minimum length of time that a veteran had to have served in Vietnam. This means, that if you can show that you served at least one minute in Vietnam during the Vietnam era or in Korea during the specified period, you do not have to prove an in-service event to establish service connection. You are automatically presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange.
Serving in Vietnam is defined as active military, naval, or air service in the Republic of Vietnam at some point during that time period described above. This includes service in the waters offshore and service in other locations if the conditions of service involved duty or visitation in the Republic of Vietnam, as well as service on the inland waterways of Vietnam. However, flying over Vietnam in an aircraft without landing in Vietnam, does not qualify as service in Vietnam.
Veterans meet the service requirement if they can prove they set foot on land in Vietnam (also known as “boots on the ground”), or were on a ship that served on the inland waterways of Vietnam. Because there is no minimum amount of time required, veterans who were only in Vietnam for a brief period of time can still qualify, even if it was landing in Vietnam while en route to another destination. The problem many veterans run into in proving this service requirement is service records often don’t document short stays in the country. You want to be sure you have carefully reviewed service personnel and medical records, or researched into the unit’s history to find any evidence of being present in Vietnam.
To meet the second requirement and qualify for presumptive service connection, a veteran needs to submit medical evidence showing they currently have one of the diseases recognized as being associated with Agent Orange, or its residuals. This means having a diagnosis of the condition from a physician. If a veteran does not have the financial means to obtain this, they can file a claim listing their symptoms and request for a VA medical examination to diagnose the condition. This is a cost-free Agent Orange Registry examination.
Apart from having a diagnosis, the disease also has to exist to a disabling degree of 10% or more. Remember ratings are based on a diagnostic code where each disease has a list of symptoms with corresponding percentages that represent degrees of disability.
Medical evidence showing that a veteran exposed to Agent Orange suffers from one of the diseases linked to Agent Orange will suffice to establish presumptive service connection. However the presumption is rebuttable, meaning if there is evidence that the disease was caused by something else not related to military service, the VA will deny service connection. For example, if the veteran has a cancer that is on the list of diseases associated with Agent Orange, but it was caused by a cancer that is not on the list, the VA is not required to grant presumptive service connection.
The third requirement is for some of the non-cancer diseases on the list. The condition has to manifest, meaning the symptoms of the condition first appeared, within one year after the veteran was last exposed to Agent Orange. This last piece also requires that the disease manifest to a degree of at least 10% disabling during that time period. The best evidence to prove this is through medical evidence. The VA is most convinced by physicians that state that it is at least as likely as not that the veteran was suffering from the disease within the required time period and to the required extent. A veteran can also provide lay evidence and their own statements to corroborate the physician’s statement.
If you meet the first two requirements, or three depending on which disease you are trying to get benefits for, you should be presumptively service connected. Of course, each claim will present its challenges, but the presumptions in place should make it easier for you to get compensated for your disabilities if you were exposed to Agent Orange.