VA releases final Agent Orange regulations

VA will publish a final regulation on Aug. 31 that will expand the list of health problems that are presumed to be linked to Agent Orange and exposure to other herbicides, adding two new conditions to the list and expanding one existing category of conditions.

VA is adding Parkinson's disease and ischemic heart disease and expanding chronic lymphocytic leukemia to include all chronic B cell leukemias, such as hairy cell leukemia.

In practical terms, veterans who served in Vietnam and who have a "presumed" illness don't have to prove an association between their medical problems and their military service. By helping veterans overcome evidentiary requirements that might otherwise present significant challenges, this "presumption" simplifies and speeds up the application process and ensure that veterans receive the benefits they deserve.

The decision to add these presumptives is based on the evidence discovered by a 2008 independent study by the Institute of Medicine concerning health problems caused by herbicides like Agent Orange. Veterans who served in Vietnam any time from Jan. 9, 1962, to May 7, 1975, are presumed to have been exposed to herbicides.

More than 150,000 veterans are expected to submit Agent Orange claims in the next 12 to 18 months. Many of them are potentially eligible for retroactive disability payments based on past claims. Additionally, VA will review approximately 90,000 previously denied claims from Vietnam veterans for service-connection status for these conditions. All those awarded service-connection distinction who are not currently eligible for enrollment into the VA health care system will become eligible.

This regulation is subject to provisions of the Congressional Review Act that require a 60-day Congressional review period before implementation. After that period, VA can begin paying benefits for new claims and may award benefits retroactively for earlier periods. 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.

VA encourages Vietnam veterans with these three diseases to submit their applications for access to VA health care and compensation now so the agency can begin development of their claims.

Individuals can visit VA's Web site to get an understanding of how to file a claim for presumptive conditions related to herbicide exposure, as well as what evidence is needed by VA to make a decision about disability compensation or survivors benefits.

Additional information about Agent Orange and VA's services for veterans exposed to the chemical is also available online.

The regulation is available on the Office of the Federal Register's Web site.