New Law Would Expand Agent Orange Presumptive List, Extending Benefits to Vietnam Veterans
Update: With the passage of the 2021 National Defense Reauthorization Act, Congress approved adding the three new medical conditions discussed below to the Agent Orange presumptive list.
Thousands of Vietnam veterans who have suffered from bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension, and Parkinson’s-like symptoms related to Agent Orange exposure could soon be fast-tracked for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, thanks to a new law.
The Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act of 2020, passed by an overwhelming majority in the Senate in late July, acknowledged the large body of scientific evidence suggesting that these diseases are associated with Agent Orange, and should be added to the Agent Orange Presumptive List. In order to take effect, the law must make it into the final defense spending bill for fiscal year 2021 and be approved by Congress.
This article gives a brief background on the current state of the Agent Orange Presumptive List, lawmakers’ proposed new additions, and the road ahead for veterans exposed to the toxic herbicide who are still waiting to receive the benefits they earned in exchange for serving our country.
What Does the Agent Orange Presumptive List Already Cover?
An estimated 900,000 veterans were exposed to Agent Orange, the toxic herbicide that was sprayed to strip jungle canopy and destroy the crops that enemy forces relied on in Vietnam. Thanks to the Agent Orange Act of 1991, the VA now acknowledges certain cancers and other diseases to be caused by Agent Orange. For example, if you have lung cancer and you served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975, the VA presumes both Agent Orange exposure and that this exposure caused the disease. As of 2020, the VA now presumes that the following health problems are related to Agent Orange:
- AL Amyloidosis
- Chronic B-cell Leukemias
- Diabetes Mellitus Type 2
- Hodgkin’s Disease
- Ischemic Heart Disease
- Multiple Myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Peripheral Neuropathy, Early-Onset
- Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
- Prostate Cancer
- Respiratory Cancers
- Soft Tissue Sarcomas
How the Agent Orange Presumptive List Help Veterans
Presumptive service connection is a much easier way to qualify for disability compensation than having to prove a direct service connection, which involves dredging up more detailed records. In order for a disease or condition to be added to the presumptive list, there must be a significant amount of scientific evidence linking the illness to Agent Orange exposure. Veterans’ advocates groups have long criticized the VA for its slowness in acknowledging the science. The four new conditions that would be added to the list, pending approval of the defense spending bill, were all found to be definitively linked to Agent Orange in recent years by prominent researchers.
- In 2018, researchers at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found evidence linking hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid is underactive, and hypertension with Agent Orange exposure in separate studies.
- In 2016 the same researchers documented a link between Agent Orange and bladder cancer. They also determined that Parkinson-like symptoms should be considered as part of Parkinson’s disease, which is already on the Agent Orange Presumptive List.
By adding these conditions to the presumptive list an estimated 22,000 Vietnam veterans suffering from bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension, and Parkinson’s-like symptoms would no longer have to jump through hoops to prove a connection to service and become eligible for benefits.
Justice Long Overdue
Veterans and advocacy groups have been fighting for years to get the VA to add the conditions outlined in the Senate bill. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and Rep. Josh Harder (D-CA) pushed to get the measure added to this year’s Defense Reauthorization Act. “Justice is long overdue for our aging veterans currently suffering from conditions resulting from their exposure to Agent Orange chemicals in Vietnam,” Tester said. “The reality is that taking care of our veterans is the cost of war — and it must be paid.”
Where do you go from here?
Not sure if your condition is covered by the Agent Orange Presumptive List? Was your Agent Orange-related claim denied? Talk to a VA disability expert at the Rep for Vets about your options today.