New Agent Orange Presumptives: The Price for the Cost Has Already Been Paid

Written by on October 14, 2010 in Health Care & Benefits, News

VetsFirst wants you to know that the VA has added three diseases to the list of those that are presumptively related to Agent Orange exposure. VetsFirst supports the VA in this decision and believes that future decisions must also be based on science, without additional consideration for the monetary cost.

On August 31, the VA published a final rule establishing presumptive service connection for three diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange. The new presumptively service-connected diseases are hairy cell leukemia and other chronic B-cell leukemias, Parkinson’s disease, and ischemic heart disease. Veterans who were in Vietnam, including on the landmass or inland waterways, between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, and have been diagnosed with one of these diseases will be able to establish service connection without proving their condition is related to their military service.

Veterans who applied for service-connected disability benefits related to one of these diseases and were denied on or after September 25, 1985, or who have a pending claim filed before August 31, 2010, will be eligible for retroactive benefits. A claim for one of these new presumptively service-connected diseases that was previously denied on or after September 25, 1985, should automatically be reviewed by the VA. Retroactive benefits owed to a veteran who is now deceased will be payable to a surviving spouse or other eligible survivor. Survivors and dependents may also be eligible for dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) or other benefits. In addition, special rules may apply to previously filed death benefit claims. If you have questions regarding these rules just Ask VetsFirst.

Because of the projected fiscal impact the addition of these diseases will have on the federal budget, the payment of benefits will be delayed at least 60 days from the date of publishing while Congress reviews the rule. The VA has estimated that compensation benefits related to these diseases will cost $39.7 billion over 10 years. The disease projected to have the most significant fiscal impact due to an anticipated large claims volume is ischemic heart disease. However, Congress is not expected to derail implementation beyond the 60 day review period.

The projected increase in VA benefits spending led former Senator and Republican co-chair of the President’s fiscal commission, Alan Simpson, to imply that veterans should help stem the budget deficit by sacrificing their earned benefits. Specifically, Mr. Simpson was quoted by The Associated Press as saying that, “The irony [is] that the veterans who saved this country are now, in a way, not helping us to save the country in this fiscal mess.” Mr. Simpson is an Army veteran and the former chair of the Senate Committee on Veteran’s Affairs.

Recently, some current members of the Senate Committee on Veteran’s Affairs have expressed concern about the process for determining whether a disease should be presumptively service-connected due to toxic exposure. At a committee hearing held on September 23, these members expressed interest in ensuring that sufficient medical evidence supports adding new diseases related to Agent Orange and other toxic exposures in the future.

VetsFirst believes that the process for determining whether a disease should be presumed to have been caused by exposure to a toxic substance during military service should be made without regard to cost or political factors. In the case of Agent Orange, VetsFirst supports the roles currently held by the Institute of Medicine (scientific) and the VA (reviewer) in considering whether a new disease should be considered presumptively service-connected. VetsFirst supports policies that ensure our veterans and their eligible family members receive the benefits they have earned through their service to our nation without additional sacrifice.

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