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 https://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.