April 2001/May 2001
Veterans Benefits Update
Final VA Regulations on Diabetes And Leukemia
By Leonard J. Selfon, Director, Veterans Benefits Program
In the spring and fall of 2000, VVA petitioned the VA to amend its
regulations to include adult-onset diabetes mellitus Type 2 a
presumptively service-connected disease as a result of exposure to Agent
Orange and other herbicides. In other words, veterans with that form of
diabetes would be eligible for service connection without the need to
submit medical evidence of a relationship between exposure and subsequent
onset. The petitions were based on government studies and a report from
the National Academy of Sciencesí Institute of Medicine (IOM).
In its report, the IOM concluded that there is "limited/suggestive
evidence" of an association between exposure to herbicides that were
used in Vietnam and adult-onset diabetes Type 2. Although the IOM did not
find a clear linkage, the level of association found is sufficient to
require that the VA add diabetes to the presumptive list of Agent
Orange-related diseases in accordance with the provisions of the Agent
Orange Act of 1991. In response to the IOMís findings, the VA on May 8
published a final regulation that allows for presumptive service
connection for adult-onset diabetes mellitus Type 2.
The regulation addresses only the issue of service connection.
The actual amount of disability compensation each veteran receives will
depend upon the severity of individual symptoms and the diseaseís impact
upon employability. The VA estimates that some 9 percent of the 2.3
million Vietnam veterans alive today suffer from Type 2 diabetes, which is
caused by the bodyís inability to process insulin. Note, however, that
the regulation does not allow for retroactive benefits--even if a veteran
had previously filed a claim for service connection for diabetes as the
result of exposure to Agent Orange. All veterans who served, or came
ashore, in Vietnam between January 1962 and May 1975 and who have been
diagnosed with diabetes Type 2 should file a claim for service connection
with the VA as soon as possible.
The VA and the Office of Management and Budget estimate that the
diabetes regulation will result in approximately $3.3 billion in benefits
being paid during the next five years. This brings the regulation within
the scope of the Congressional Review Act of 1996, which allows for
mandatory congressional review of any regulation that will have a
significant economic impact (defined as costing the government more than
Under the act, Congress is authorized to issue a joint resolution of
disapproval if it disagrees with the promulgation of the regulation.
Consequently, the regulation includes a delayed effective date of 60
days--the time frame in which Congress may review the regulation--before
any claims are processed or benefits awarded. The regulation, therefore,
will not go into effect until July 9. This will be the earliest effective
date of any granting of benefits for Agent-Orange-related diabetes Type 2.
In an April 19 report, the IOM announced its findings that there is
"limited or suggestive" evidence that veteransí exposure to
Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam could result in their children
developing a rare and deadly form of cancer, acute myelogenous leukemia
(AML). It is believed that as many as one thousand children of Vietnam
veterans currently suffer from AML.
There is no legal authority from Congress for the VA to compensate and
treat these children. However, VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi has
requested and obtained the Presidentís approval to ask Congress for
legislation to provide for such benefits. Currently, the only disease for
which children of Vietnam veterans may receive benefits--including
compensation, job training, and health care--is spina bifida.