(Washington, D.C.)—“Vietnam Veterans of America welcomes the long-anticipated final rules governing the addition of three new diseases to the list of diseases presumptively service connected for exposure to Agent Orange. Under these new rules, published today in the Federal Register by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), veterans who served in Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, are presumed exposed to Agent Orange for Parkinson’s disease, B-Cell leukemias, and ischemic heart disease (IHD),” said VVA National President John Rowan.
The effective date of the rules, which appear http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/pdf/2010-21556.pdf, is August 31, 2010. However, VA cannot start paying benefits under the rules, as the Congressional Review Act (CRA) requires a 60-day wait. “It is anticipated that the VA will start paying on the back claims on or after October 31, 2010, and unless Congress acts to deny implementation of the rules, Agent Orange-exposed veterans suffering from any of these diseases will get the help they need and have earned,” noted Rowan.
The published rules state Parkinson’s disease is covered, however the rules do not include parkinsonian syndromes and/or parkinsonism, as well as multiple systems atrophy (MSA), progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), and other parkinsonism caused by stroke, encephalitis, meningitis, cortibosasal degeneration, certain antipsychotic and metoclopramide medications, other toxins, and head trauma.
The rules add all chronic B-Cell leukemias to the presumptive list, including 14 kinds of lymphomas involving B-cell leukemias. B-Cell leukemias include B-Cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma; Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, mature B-cell type; B-cell prolymphocytic leukemia; Precursor B lymphoblastic leukemia; and Hairy cell leukemia.
For Ischemic Heart Disease (IHD), the rules outline what the VA will and will not recognize: According to the published rules, the VA “interprets IHD, for purposes of service connection, to encompass any atherosclerotic heart disease resulting in clinically significant ischemia or requiring coronary revascularization. In the notice of proposed rulemaking, we explained that the term ‘ischemic heart disease’ does not encompass hypertension or peripheral manifestations of arteriosclerotic heart disease, such as peripheral vascular disease or stroke.”VA points out that IHD includes “Prinzmetal’s Angina, and Stable and Unstable Angina.”
Veterans exposed to Agent Orange herbicides and who suffer from one of these diseases should file a claim immediately, and may apply on line at: http://vabenefits.vba.va.gov/vonapp/main.asp. Exposed veterans who filed a claim prior to August 31, 2010, may be covered under a court class ruling, Nehmer v. Department of Veterans Affairs (Nehmer), which, in most cases, provides for payment back to the date of the original claim filing date. Nehmer also allows payment of back benefits to the surviving spouse or to the veteran’s estate. Veterans who have filed a claim prior to August 31, 2010, should contact a Veterans Service Officer to ensure all benefits are received. “We urge all veterans with past claims for one of the new diseases to call the VA at 1-800-827-1000 and inform them that their claim may be subject to the Nehmer court ruling,” said Rowan.
Noted Rowan, “VVA contends that many Vietnam-era veterans were also exposed in their service elsewhere in Southeast Asia during the war, including in Thailand and Laos, and aboard Navy vessels off the coast of Vietnam, as well as certain military bases located in the continental U.S. and its territories. We will continue to fight for all who suffer long-term health effects as a result of their service to our nation.”