VA Publishes Final Regulation to Aid Vietnam Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today, August 31, published its final regulation establishing Parkinson's disease, ischemic heart condition, and B-cell leukemias as service-connected disabilities for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
What Does this Mean For Vietnam Vets with PD?
Accessing health care and disability compensation will be easier for qualifying veterans. If a veteran served in Vietnam from January 9, 1962 to May 7, 1975 and now has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, they are presumed to have been exposed to herbicides. The veteran does not have to prove an association between their disease and their military service. The presumption simplifies and speeds up the application process for disability compensation, and all those awarded service-connection will become eligible to join the VA healthcare system.
The VA will now review approximately 90,000 previously denied claims by Vietnam veterans for service-connection for these three conditions. Some additional veterans will be eligible for retroactive benefits. For new claims, VA may pay benefits retroactive to the effective date of the regulation or to one year before the date VA receives the application, whichever is later. For pending claims and claims that were previously denied, VA may pay benefits retroactive to the date it received the claim.
So When Will This Go Into Effect?
Even though the final regulation is published, the regulation is subject to a 60-day review period by Congress before the VA can begin paying benefits for new claims.
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on September 23 to review the rule and to discuss how the VA Secretary makes his decision to establish a disease as a service-connected disability. There certainly is no intention for Congress to actually block the implementation of the final rule, but the VA will have to wait 60 days before they can start compensating veterans.
What the Final Rule Didn't Do
The Parkinson's community sent nearly 400 comments to the VA in support of the proposed regulation. Many of the comments urged the VA to clarify its definition of Parkinson's to include diseases of Parkinsonism (primary, atypical, and secondary Parkinsonian syndromes). Unfortunately, the final rule did not expand the definition of Parkinson's disease to include Parkinsonism. VA argues that the current medical evidence does not support the expansion of the definition at this time but will reconsider if the Institute of Medicine (IOM) provides additional guidance in future reports.
PAN will continue to work with the VA to ensure that all veterans living with Parkinson's and Parkinsonism receive access to the healthcare and benefits they wholeheartedly deserve.
Apply for Benefits
If you are a Vietnam veteran with Parkinson's and have not applied for benefits, we encourage you to submit your application for compensation now—even before the VA can start paying claims. For more information about applying for VA benefits and Agent Orange, visit the VA Web site.