Recent VA Policy Changes Regarding Certain Presumptive Benefits
by Casaundra Johnson | Oct 04, 2021 | Veterans
Over the past few months, the VA has made several significant policy changes that expand eligibility for certain presumptive benefits. Three of the recent changes involve Agent Orange exposure, Gulf War Syndrome, and Particulate Matter exposure.
The VA presumes service connection for veterans who served in certain areas during specific periods of the Vietnam War era and have been diagnosed with one of the recognized conditions on the presumptive list. Recently, the VA added the three more conditions to the Agent Orange presumptive list: bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and parkinsonism.
Veterans and their survivors who were previously denied benefits for any of these conditions will have their cases automatically reviewed without the need to refile a new claim. In these circumstances, the VA should use the appropriate effective date from the prior claim, meaning eligible veterans may be entitled to substantial back pay.
With the addition of the three new conditions, the full list of presumptive Agent Orange conditions is as follows:
- AL Amyloidosis
- Bladder Cancer
- Chronic B-cell Leukemias
- Diabetes Mellitus Type 2
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Ischemic Heart Disease
- Multiple Myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Parkinson’s-like Symptoms
- Peripheral Neuropathy
- Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
- Prostate Cancer
- Respiratory Cancer: Such as lung cancer and other cancers of the respiratory system.
- Soft Tissue Sarcomas
Veterans with at least one of the following service requirements are presumed to have Agent Orange exposure:
- Service in at least one of these locations, for any length of time, between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975:
- In the Republic of Vietnam, or
- Aboard a U.S. military vessel that operated in the inland waterways of Vietnam, or
- On a vessel operating not more than 12 nautical miles seaward from the demarcation line of the waters of Vietnam and Cambodia, or
- On regular perimeter duty on the fenced-in perimeters of a U.S. Army installation in Thailand or a Royal Thai Air Force base. These bases include U-Tapao, Ubon, Nakhon Phanom, Udorn, Takhli, Korat, or Don Muang, or
- Service in or near the Korean DMZ for any length of time between September 1, 1967, and August 31, 1971, or
- Active-duty service in a regular Air Force unit location where a C-123 aircraft with traces of Agent Orange was assigned and had repeated contact with this aircraft due to your flight, ground, or medical duties, or
- Service that included transporting, testing, storing, or other uses of Agent Orange during your military service, or
- Assignment as a Reservist to certain flight, ground, or medical crew duties at one of the following locations:
- Lockbourne/Rickenbacker Air Force Base in Ohio, 1969 to 1986 (906th and 907th Tactical Air Groups or 355th and 356th Tactical Airlift Squadrons)
- Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts, 1972 to 1982 (731st Tactical Air Squadron and 74th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, or 901st Organizational Maintenance Squadron)
- Pittsburgh International Airport in Pennsylvania, 1972 to 1982 (758th Airlift Squadron)
If your service or illness does not qualify for presumed Agent Orange exposure, you can still file a claim for disability benefits but will need to provide more evidence to prove service connection.
Gulf War Syndrome
The VA recently extended the time limit for Gulf War Veterans to claim presumptive disability for the chronic illnesses commonly referred to as Gulf War Syndrome and associated with unexplained symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, joint pain, indigestion, insomnia, dizziness, respiratory orders, skin rashes, and diarrhea, and cognitive or memory problems.
The VA was originally scheduled to stop awarding presumptive benefits to Gulf War veterans with a related disability diagnosed after Dec. 31, 2021. However, on September 14, 2021, the VA extended the presumptive period to December 31, 2026, meaning Gulf War Veterans will remain eligible for disability compensation for qualifying disabilities that are at least 10 percent disabling on or before December 31, 2026. The VA extended the deadline because an end date for the Persian Gulf War has not been established yet and it is still unclear how long it takes for illnesses caused Persian Gulf service to show up in affected veterans.
Gulf War Veterans who served in the Southwest Asia theater of military operations after August 2, 1990, maybe eligible for disability benefits if:
- The veteran has an illness or condition that has caused illness for at least 6 months, and
- The illness results in a disability rating of 10% or more, and
- The veteran has one of the following presumptive diseases:
- Functional gastrointestinal disorders
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Other undiagnosed illnesses, included but were not limited to cardiovascular disease, muscle and joint pain, and headaches
Gulf War veterans can also get disability benefits if they are diagnosed with mycobacterium tuberculosis or visceral leishmaniasis at any time after separation from the military, or if they are diagnosed with certain conditions within one year of separation.
Particulate Matter Exposure
The VA added three conditions to the presumptive list related to particulate matter exposure. The new presumptive conditions include asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis. To be eligible for benefits due to particulate matter exposure, a veteran must have developed one of the recognized conditions within 10 years of separating from the military and served in:
- Southwest Asia from August 2, 1990, to present, or
- Afghanistan, Djibouti, Syria, and Uzbekistan during the Persian Gulf War from September 19, 2001, to present
Particulate matter exposure encompasses contact with a variety of environmental hazards, such as:
- Particulate matter or large burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Djibouti in the Horn of Africa
- Large sulfur fire at Mishraq State Sulfur Mine near Mosul, Iraq
- Hexavalent chromium at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in Basra, Iraq
- Pollutants from waste incinerators near the Naval Air Facility at Atsugi Japan
The VA’s Airborne Hazards and Burn Pit Exposures publication recognizes fuel, aircraft exhaust, mechanical fumes, sand, dust, and general air pollution common in certain countries as airborne hazards as well.
The Bainbridge Firm represents Veterans. If you or a loved one has a question regarding benefits, please contact our office today.
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