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COMPENSATION FOR VIETNAM VETERANS
Special rules apply to compensation for Vietnam veterans. This is because the Veterans Administration (VA) now recognizes that Vietnam veterans were exposed to Agent Orange, which has been shown to cause or contribute to a number of serious diseases. Some of these diseases occur shortly after exposure to Agent Orange, but others occur years later.
The U.S. Military in Vietnam made wide use of a defoliant which contained dioxin and was called Agent Orange. This was sprayed from aircraft over large areas of jungle and forest. In fact, it is believed that it was so widely used that nearly everyone in Vietnam was exposed to it.
After the war, veterans’ groups observed that the incidence of certain diseases among Vietnam veterans was much higher than among the general population. As a result of congressional action and court rulings, the VA finally agreed to grant service-connected compensation to Vietnam veterans who contract diseases shown to be caused by Agent Orange.
The VA engaged the National Institute of Health to conduct epidemiological studies to determine if there is a significantly higher incidence of certain diseases among Vietnam veterans, as compared to the population at large. The studies have shown that there is, in fact, a higher incidence of certain diseases among Vietnam veterans. These veterans are entitled to service-connected compensation.
A Vietnam veteran who served for any period of time in Vietnam is entitled to compensation if he later contracts one of these diseases. If a veteran set foot in Vietnam for even one day, it is presumed he was exposed to Agent Orange. If he later contracts one of the diseases now known to be connected to Agent Orange, he is entitled to service-connected compensation; but to draw the compensation, he must file an application. The list of covered diseases now includes chloracne, certain leukemias, lung cancer, bronchial cancer, tracheal cancer, prostate cancer, adult-onset diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and many other diseases.
Certain diseases were recognized by the VA many years ago to be connected to Agent Orange and subject to compensation. Because some epidemiological studies take years to complete, other diseases were not scientifically shown to be connected until years later.
For example, in 1994 the VA recognized cancer of the lung, larynx, bronchus and trachea to be connected to Agent Orange exposure and subject to service-connected compensation for Vietnam veterans. Later, in 2001, the VA recognized adult-onset diabetes as service-connected due to Agent Orange exposure. In 2010, the VA finally recognized ischemic heart disease and Parkinson’s Disease to be connected to Agent Orange exposure.
Thousands of veterans applied many years ago for compensation for diseases now recognized as connected to Agent Orange exposure, but their claims were denied. This was because at the time the veterans applied, the diseases had not yet been recognized as service-connected.
Any Vietnam veteran who was previously denied benefits for a disease now known to be connected to Agent Orange should file a new application with the VA. Special rules apply to allow veterans to reopen these claims, even if the initial claim was denied many years ago. In some cases, veterans can receive retroactive payment back to the time their initial claim was filed.
An example will illustrate the point. A Vietnam veteran who developed ischemic heart disease filed a claim for service-connected compensation in 1990. The VA denied the claim, because at that time ischemic heart disease was not recognized as service-connected secondary to Agent Orange. In 2011, the veteran learned that ischemic heart disease is now recognized as service-connected, and he filed a new application. The VA granted his claim, pays the veteran a monthly compensation, and also paid him the back benefits he should have been paid since 1990.
The VA laws, regulations, and procedures are complicated. For Vietnam veterans, this is especially true. As a result, the Vietnam Veterans of America recommend that Vietnam veterans who believe they have a service-connected impairment seek advice from someone with expertise in veterans’ law, regulations and procedures.
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