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Agent Orange

Exposure to Dioxin from Contact with Aircraft

A recent study published in the journal Environmental Research  indicates that military personnel who flew in dioxin-contaminated aircraft used to spray Agent Orange in the Vietnam War (Operation Ranch Hand) may have been exposed to greater levels of dioxin than has previously been recognized.

The recent study indicates that the potential for exposure to personnel working in these aircraft after they were used for Operation Ranch Hand may be much greater than VA has acknowledged.  This also has implications for personnel who did not “set foot” in Vietnam, but who flew the planes used to spray Agent Orange and who were involved in cleaning and maintenance of the aircraft.

Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C) and Senator Jeff Berkely (D-Ore.) have asked VA to review whether benefits are inappropriately being denied to veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange contaminated aircraft.

Demonstrating contamination is further complicated by the fact that almost all of the aircraft, although showing contamination in the 1990s, have since been destroyed.

If you were exposed to aircraft used in spraying Agent Orange, you should be sure to reference this study when filing a claim for Agent Orange related conditions or disputing the denial of such claims.

New Conditions in “Veterans and Agent Orange”

As many veterans are aware, there are a special set of regulations that provide for “presumptive service connection” for certain conditions if a veteran was exposed to Agent Orange.  This list is important because if a veteran does develop one of the listed condition, even 40 or 50 years after service, and they served on land in Vietnam during the war, service connection is very likely to be automatically granted.  The list is updated periodically based upon the latest scientific studies; in recent years, conditions have been added including ischemic heart disease and Type II Diabetes.  The addition of these diseases and others to the list have benefited thousands of veterans who are now service-connected and receiving VA benefits.

As mentioned, VA adds new conditions to the list every few years based on the latest research.  Congress has mandated that the National Academy of Sciences report every two years on this research and that the report assess how likely it is that other diseases should be added to the list.  The latest report, called Veterans and Agent Orange, Update 2012 was just released in December (despite the 2012 date, this report did not come out until late 2013).  The biggest news from the report is a finding that there is “limited and suggestive evidence” that strokes are related to exposure to Agent Orange.  Similar findings about Parkinson’s Disease led to that condition being added to the presumptive list several years ago.  The report does not find that the latest research supports there being a link between any other new condition and Agent Orange.  For example, the report finds that there is still insufficient evidence to currently show a link between Agent Orange and the development of certain leukemias, such as Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML) and Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS).

Under the Agent Orange Act of 1991, VA will now have to take the information from the study and can propose rules adding conditions, such as stroke, to the list of presumptive diseases.  The National Academy’s report is available to read on line or download for free: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=18395

Link Between Kidney Cancer and Agent Orange Exposure

Even if a particular condition is not on VA’s “presumptive list” as a condition caused by Agent Orange exposure, a veteran can present medical evidence to show that his or her individual condition is “as likely as not” related to that exposure.

A new VA study suggests a link between Agent Orange exposure and kidney cancer, a condition that is not on VA’s “presumptive list.” While this is a limited study, this type of evidence may be helpful in establishing that this exposure is “as likely as not” related to kidney cancer, and can provide support for an opinion by your doctor that the two are related.

For more about the study, see http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/cancer/articles/2011/05/14/agent-orange-linked-to-kidney-cancer-study

Delay in implementing new Agent Orange rules

You may have heard that VA had proposed new rules recently to allow veterans with ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and B-cell Leukemia, to get service connection automatically if they were exposed to Agent Orange. These rules have now been put on hold while Congress looks at whether or not to allow them to go forward.

For many years, the law has said that when scientists discover that a disease is likely to have been caused by exposure to Agent Orange, VA must add those conditions to a list of conditions which are presumptively service-connected. This means that if you were exposed to Agent Orange (and veterans who served in country in Vietnam are all presumed to have been exposed), and you develop the disease later on, you are automatically service-connected, unless VA can show there’s another cause. This list now includes conditions like Type II diabetes, and prostate cancer. The conditions are listed at http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/diseases.asp#veterans.
You can read the regulation if you like at 38 C.F.R. § 3.309(e).

Recent findings in the scientific community have confirmed that there is a relationship between Agent Orange exposure and ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s and B-cell Leukemia. So, as was required by the law, VA proposed to add these conditions to its list of conditions that are presumptively service-connected.

The proposed regulations were published last March, and were set to become final in May. However, the United States Senate has voted to delay implementation of the new rules for another 60 days in order to think further about whether or not the science supporting the link to Agent Orange is any good. According to some news reports, some members of the Senate are upset about the amount of money it would cost to pay benefits to veterans with these diseases, and believe that these payments would be based upon weak evidence.

So, now it’s time to wait and see what will happen. In the meantime, if you’ve filed a claim for one of these conditions hoping that the new rules would be in effect soon, you’re going to have to wait a little longer. You should keep in mind that even if these regulations are never put into place, you can still tell the VA that service connection for your condition should be granted on a direct basis. If you have evidence that you now suffer from one of these conditions, you can cite to the studies relied on by VA in proposing this change, linking these conditions to Agent Orange exposure. While this may not be enough to win your case, it should require VA to consider assisting you by asking for a medical opinion about the origin of your condition.

New conditions added to Agent Orange presumptive list

VA announced on October 13, 2009, that it will add three more illnesses to the “presumptive list” of Agent Orange related diseases: Parkinson’s disease, B cell leukemias, such as hairy cell leukemia, and ischemic heart disease.

In practical effect, this means that a service person who served in Vietnam during the war and has one of these diseases will find it far easier to establish service connection for these diseases.

For the Department of Veterans Affairs news release, see

http://www1.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=1796

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