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March/april 2010

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Agent Orange/Dioxin


In October 2009, VA Secretary Shinseki announced that ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, and B-cell leukemia were being added to the list of diseases presumptive to exposures to Agent Orange and other herbicides. It is now more than five months since the announcement, and many veterans wonder what is happening with these new presumptive diseases and when the VA will start rating claims.

First, the VA has a statutory 210 days from receiving the biennial Veterans Agent Orange (VAO) review from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to publish the final rules, which become effective when published. The 210-day period consists of 60 days to make a determination on presumptiveness for a disease, 60 days after the presumptiveness decision to publish proposed rules, and then 90 days after publication of proposed rules to publish the final rules. This 210-day period began when the VA received the latest VAO Review from IOM on July 22, 2009.

As of February 25, the proposed rules had not been published.  So where are they and when can veterans expect the VA to start rating their claims for these new diseases?

Information from the VA indicates that Secretary Shinseki approved the proposed rules just before Christmas. The proposed rules were then sent to the Office of Management and Budget. The OMB web site shows that these rules were received on December 28, 2009. The proposed rules are still at OMB, which has up to 90 days to complete its review. 

If OMB takes the full 90 days (which it appears it will), then the proposed rules will not be back to the VA until after March 28. If the VA publishes the rules by April 1 and the final rules 90 days later, it would be the end of June before the VA could start rating claims. That will be 343 days after the VA received the VAO Review from IOM.

The VA could shorten the process by reducing the comment period for the proposed rules. But it looks like veterans suffering from these new presumptive diseases will not receive benefits until after June 2010. How long after? That will depend on how quickly the VA can process and rate the claims.  

Some veterans will benefit more quickly than others. What we know is that the VA will not publish the proposed and final rules on time, as required by Public Law 102-4 (The Agent Orange Act of 1991). Many veterans have suffered physically from these diseases for many years, and their families have suffered from the financial burden of lost income and the cost of health care. These veterans deserve prompt action and for the VA to meet its statutory requirements.

The good news for veterans is that the VA supplemental budget for 2010 and the budget for 2011 include funding for the new Agent Orange presumptive diseases.

Remember that benefits for these new diseases are not automatic. You must file a claim.

The Agent Orange/Dioxin and Toxic Exposures Committee: Alan Oates, Chair; George Newell, Vice Chair. Members: Wayne Cartier, Bob Caswell, George Claxton, James Cripp, Billee Culin, Mike Demske, Bill Dumsick, Stan Goodwin, Alan Grant, Ken Holybee, Darrell Martin, Luther Newberry, Francis Rowan, Nathaniel Washington, John Weiss, William Whaley, and Sandie Wilson. Special Advisors: Linda Schwartz, Paul Sutton, Nancy Switzer, and Patsy Varnell. Staff Coordinators: Bernie Edelman and Mokie Porter.



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