The VA has opened the door for retroactive disability compensation for about 86,000 Vietnam war veterans, their surviving spouses or their estates by expanding the number of diseases presumed caused by herbicide exposure during the Vietnam war
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is reportedly expanding by three the number of diseases presumed caused by herbicide exposure in the Vietnam war under a draft VA rule, opening the door for retroactive disability compensation for about 86,000 Vietnam war veterans, their surviving spouses or their estates.
About 86,000 beneficiaries can reopen previously denied claims for ischemic heart disease (IHD), Parkinson's disease and chronic B-cell blood cancers including hairy cell leukemia. Another 29,000 claims are expected to be approved this year for Vietnam veterans suffering from these diseases but applying for benefits for the first time.
The growing list of Agent Orange diseases stems from a court case filed in 1986. Veterans won the class action lawsuit which, reinforced by legislation, requires the VA to direct the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to report every two years on any positive association between new diseases and exposure to herbicides in Vietnam. More diseases resulting from the herbicide could be added since the NAS reports will continue through October 1, 2014.
Projected costs of the increased claims linked to Agent Orange and other chemicals that were deployed four decades ago is $13.6 billion this fiscal year and $42.2 billion over 10 years. The VA is planning to hire 1,772 new claims processors beginning in October to handle these claims "without significantly degrading the processing on the non-presumptive workload" according to the Military.com report.
Vietnam Vets with Those Diseases Need to Prove They were in Vietnam During the War
The proposed rule was published on March 25 in the Federal Register. The usual 60-day public comment period was cut in half by Secretary Eric Shinseki in order to promote rapid action on these claims.
The final rule should be published soon after April 26. Once published, the VA claim offices across the country will be able to begin making payments. Vietnam veterans with those diseases will need to prove they were in Vietnam during the war. Veterans who served aboard ships just off the coast remain ineligible.
The addition of IHD to the list of presumptive Agent Orange illnesses is significant, being that it accounts for 82 percent of the additional expected payments to beneficiaries.
The VA estimates that nearly 70,000 of the 86,000 beneficiaries eligible for retroactive claims are living Vietnam veterans, with an average age of 63. Of those, 62,200 were previously denied compensation for IHD, 5,400 were denied claims for B-cell leukemia and 2,300 were denied claims for Parkinson's disease.
According to the report, about 53,000 who previously filed claims for these diseases are already receiving VA compensation for other service-related diseases. Of those, roughly 8,350 are rated 100 percent disabled and therefore may not be eligible for retroactive pay.
Eligible Vets and Survivors Must File Claims to Get Paid
The VA assumes that veterans with Parkinson's disease or B-cell leukemia will be awarded 100 percent disability ratings. Veterans with IHD are expected to be awarded a 60 percent disability rating.
The VA also assumes that 80 percent of eligible veterans will apply for benefits and 100 percent of those who do apply will be approved. In order to get the benefits, eligible vets and survivors must file claims to get paid. Nothing will happen automatically.
To file claims online, point your browser to http://vabenefits.vba.va.gov/vonapp/main.asp and fill the form out. Veterans and survivors without computers can call 1-800-749-8387 toll-free to get help.
A directory of veterans' service organizations with trained staff is maintained by the VA and can be found at http://www1.va.gov/vso/. There are many state, county and local governments that also have personnel to help. Information on those agencies can be found at http://www.va.gov/statedva.htm.
The VA expects claims from presumptive Agent Orange to hit 159,000 this year and to exceed 270,000 by fiscal 2019. Entitlement to the benefits will only occur with final publication of the regulation. Retroactive payments usually will be made back to the date a claim was filed for a presumptive disease according to the report.