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New Agent Orange Policy Will Make Disability Benefits Available to More Vets

Oct 13, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP A new proposal on Agent Orange health claims issued this week by the Department of Veterans Affairs  will make it much easier for veterans injured by the toxin to make claims for disability payments and health care services.  Under the proposal, three illnesses - B cell leukemias, such as hairy cell leukemia; Parkinson's disease; and ischemic heart disease - will be added to the growing list of illnesses presumed to have been caused by Agent Orange.

Agent Orange was widely used during the Vietnam War as a defoliant to remove enemy hiding places.   According to The New York Times, Agent Orange was the most common herbicide used in the war.  It contained one of the most toxic forms of dioxin, which has since been linked to some cancers.

According to a VA press release, between January 1965 and April 1970, an estimated 2.6 million military personnel who served in Vietnam were potentially exposed to sprayed Agent Orange.  Many of those exposed to the toxin continue to suffer health problems.

The decision to add B cell leukemias, Parkinson's disease and ischemic heart disease to the roster of presumed Agent Orange illnesses brings the total number of ailments on the list to 15.  Other presumed Agent Orange illnesses include:

  • Acute and Subacute Transient Peripheral Neuropathy
  • AL Amyloidosis
  • Chloracne
  • Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
  • Diabetes Mellitus (Type 2)
  • Hodgkin's Disease
  • Multiple Myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma
  • Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Respiratory Cancers, and
  • Soft Tissue Sarcoma (other than Osteosarcoma, Chondrosarcoma, Kaposi's sarcoma, or Mesothelioma)

Veterans who served in Vietnam during the war and who have a "presumed" illness don't have to prove an association between their illnesses and their military service.  This "presumption" simplifies and speeds up the application process for benefits.  According to the Times, it is  estimated that about 200,000 veterans might seek benefits under the proposed change in policy.

According to The New York Times, the new Agent Orange policy will apply to some 2.1 million veterans who set foot in Vietnam during the war, including those who came after the military stopped using Agent Orange in 1970. It will not apply to sailors on deep-water ships, though VA says it plans to study the effects of Agent Orange on the Navy.

The decision to expand the list of presumed Agent Orange illnesses was based on  an independent study released in July by the Institute of Medicine,  the VA press release said.

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