Congress To Expand Benefits For Veterans Exposed To Toxins
In a move that would expand benefits for veterans of Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War, and the Global War on Terror, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-CA) has set up an online survey for individuals to report toxic exposure symptoms related to their military service.
The intention of Rep. Takano’s survey is to support his proposed Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act which has at least 67 co-sponsors as of February 21, 2022. Therefore, Rep. Takano has encouraged veterans to share via the survey. Stating: “Your responses will help the Committee better understand veterans’ experiences with toxic exposure and how Congress can help ensure these veterans receive the benefits they have earned and deserve.” The proposed $282 billion legislation would increase the number of presumptive conditions and presumptive service-related connections to include at least twenty-three (23) diseases.
Congress estimates Parallel legislation, the Comprehensive and Overdue Support for Troops (COST) of War Act, passed through the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee last October to cost $223 billion.
Agent Orange Act of 1991
Though the current bill would benefit several groups of veterans, Vietnam-era veterans exposed to Agent Orange would be the oldest generation to benefit from the legislation. The Agent Orange Act of 1991 granted presumptive service connection to Veterans who had qualifying conditions and “set foot” in the country of Vietnam between 1962 and 1965. Problems arose when veterans applied for benefits who had not set foot in Vietnam, but claimed they were exposed to contaminated aircraft, or exposed in neighboring countries such as Thailand.
Certain conditions – notably, hypertension – were not linked to toxin exposure. The Honoring our PACT Act would change that and add hypertension to the list of qualifying conditions.
The bill would combine coverage schemes from the VA and would extend presumptive eligibility to:
- any Veterans exposed to burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere;
- a Veteran that may have faced challenges applying for benefits such as Vietnam veterans with hypertension, and Vietnam-era veterans exposed to Agent Orange and other defoliants outside the war zone;
- Veterans exposed to radiation in Palomares, Spain, and Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands; and
- veterans of the Persian Gulf War.
Presumptive Conditions For Agent Orange Exposure
As a result, the VA could presumptively entitle qualifying veterans or their surviving family members to disability benefits. However, the eligibility requirements for Vietnam-era veterans exposed to Agent Orange are straightforward:
The Veteran must have served in the Vietnam theater between January 1962 and May 1975, the approximate dates of Operation Ranch Hand. Also, a few other service records may qualify for presumptive status. As an example, service “in or near the Korean DMZ for any length of time between September 1, 1967, and August 31, 1971,” e.g., direct involvement in using, testing, storing or transporting Agent Orange. Or deployment at certain Air Force bases closely associated with Operation Ranch Hand.”
Second, the Veteran must have a current diagnosis of one of the following seventeen conditions (this list is subject to change and is current as of February 2022):
- Porphyria cutanea tarda (a liver disease),
- Early onset peripheral neuropathy,
- Parkinson’s disease,
- Ischemic heart disease,
- Type Two diabetes,
- Chloracne (a skin disease related to toxic exposure),
- AL amyloidosis (a protein imbalance in internal organs),
- Soft tissue sarcoma (mostly muscle cancer),
- Lung cancer,
- Prostate cancer,
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,
- Multiple myeloma (a types of blood cancer),
- Hodgkin’s disease,
- Bladder cancer, or
- Chronic B-cell leukemia.
A double presumption applies in these cases, meaning (1) the illness is presumptively bad enough to merit total disability, and (2) it is presumptively connected to Agent Orange exposure.
Though many Vietnam-era veterans have passed away, the VA may entitle their family members to benefits if the veteran’s death was related to a qualifying condition. Only an experienced veterans disability attorney should take on such a case.
For conditions not on the presumptive list, service connection can still be obtained with the appropriate evidence, though the claim may be more complex. Again, an experienced veterans disability attorney will know what evidence is necessary for a claim to be granted.
Reach Out to Diligent Attorneys
Though there are still many improvements to be made to the VA’s benefit program, a clear message is being sent. Congress wants to expand benefits for the nation’s veterans. Celebrities, lawmakers, and veterans organizations support these bills.
In the end, presumption or no presumption, benefits are available for service-related Agent Orange exposure illnesses. So, for a free consultation with an experienced Veterans disability lawyer, contact the Cameron Firm, P.C. at 800-861-7262. Or fill out the contact box on our website. We are here to represent Veterans nationwide.
This article is for educational and marketing purposes only. Therefore. it does not create an attorney-client relationship.