Posted byBerry LawonSeptember 12, 2022 inAgent Orange
Though the Vietnam War was decades ago, many Veterans continue to suffer from its effects. One of the most controversial aspects of the Vietnam War was its use of a toxic chemical compound known as Agent Orange.
Veterans who suffer from health conditions and autoimmune disorders as a result of exposure to Agent Orange are eligible for benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
But how does Agent Orange exposure affect your VA disability claim for autoimmune diseases? We’ll break down the process and discuss everything you need to know below.
What Is Agent Orange?
Agent Orange is a chemical herbicide that the US military used during the Vietnam War to clear forests and other brush. Agent Orange contains a chemical called dioxin that has harmful effects on humans.
The US military no longer uses Agent Orange because of its harmful effects, and it has not been produced since the 1970s. However, the results of Agent Orange exposure still linger for some Veterans long after their military service.
How To Apply for Benefits for Agent Orange Exposure
Typically, when a Veteran makes a claim through the VA, they will have to show three things:
- Diagnosis of a current disability.
- Evidence of an in-service injury or illness.
- A medical nexus connecting the current diagnosis and in-service event.
Failure to supply the proper evidence for all three of these components will disqualify a Veteran from receiving benefits. However, Agent Orange exposure follows a different process.
What Makes Agent Orange Exposure Different?
Essentially, when a Veteran shows that they served during the Vietnam War, the VA presumes Agent Orange exposure. This makes it easier for Veterans to be awarded a service connection and receive benefits from the VA.
To qualify for presumptive exposure, Veterans must fall into one of these categories:
- Veterans who served in Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975. This service can include brief visits ashore or aboard ships that operated on Vietnam’s inland waterways or offshore.
- Veterans who served in or near the Korean demilitarized zone between April 1, 1968, and August 31, 1971.
- Veterans who served as Air Force or Air Force Reserve members from 1969 through 1986 and maintained or served onboard C-123 aircraft, which sprayed Agent Orange over Vietnam.
If a Veteran does not meet any of these qualifications, they may have a more difficult time acquiring the benefits they deserve.
What Disabilities Qualify for Benefits?
This list is regularly updated, and the VA recently added three more presumptive conditions related to Agent Orange exposure: bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinson’s disease. If the VA previously denied a case for any of these conditions, they will go back and review the Veteran’s case so that they can get the disability rating and benefits that they deserve.
In addition to the illnesses listed above, Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam Veterans is also linked to conditions such as:
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- AL amyloidosis
- Soft tissue sarcomas
- Lung cancer and other respiratory cancers
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Diabetes mellitus
- Prostate cancer
- Ischemic heart disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- And birth defects like spina bifida in Veterans’ children
If Veterans want to receive benefits from the VA for a disability that is a result of exposure to Agent Orange, they will have to check the list of the VA’s presumed disabilities.
If you have any of these health problems and suspect that they are linked to herbicide exposure from your time on active duty, make sure to file a disability claim for a presumptive service connection.
Does Exposure to Agent Orange Make a Veteran More Likely To Have an Autoimmune Disorder?
One of the many concerns regarding exposure to Agent Orange is whether or not a Veteran is more likely to get an autoimmune disorder.
An autoimmune disease is a disease in which a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks the body and works against them. These kinds of diseases can cause severe symptoms, and some cannot be cured.
One particular autoimmune disease that Veterans exposed to Agent Orange are vulnerable to is Graves disease — a thyroid disorder that causes the thyroid to overproduce thyroid hormones.
Studies have found that Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange were three times more likely to get Graves disease than those who did not have any exposure to it.
As with any suspected autoimmune disorder, it is important to document the symptoms for a medical provider so you can get a proper diagnosis. Some conditions will be considered presumptive health conditions with documentation of Agent Orange exposure, meaning that you will not need to provide additional evidence to receive your VA benefits. Other conditions, however, will require more documentation.
What Are the Symptoms of Graves Disease?
A Veteran may experience many different symptoms of Graves disease, including:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Changes in menstrual cycles
- Heat sensitivity
- Rapid heartbeat
- Sleep disturbance
If a Veteran is experiencing a rapid or irregular heartbeat as a result of Graves disease, they should contact emergency help for immediate health care. These kinds of symptoms must be acknowledged and treated immediately.
Veterans’ doctors may treat Graves disease with anti-thyroid medication, beta-blockers, surgery, or radioactive iodine therapy. The form of treatment will usually depend on the severity of the disease.
Does the VA Cover Autoimmune Disorders for Agent Orange Exposure?
Simply put, it depends.
VA disability benefits cover some autoimmune disorders, but not all of them. For example, Veterans’ benefits currently cover chronic B-cell Leukemia. However, the VA does not yet acknowledge Graves disease as a presumptive health condition from Agent Orange exposure.
If a Veteran has been exposed to Agent Orange and has an autoimmune disorder like Graves disease that is related to the exposure — yet the VA does not recognize it as a presumptive condition —then the Veteran will have to provide evidence to receive a service connection. A key part of this evidence will be the medical nexus that the doctor makes between the current diagnosis and the in-service stressor.
The doctor’s report will need to contain language like “(the disability) is at least as likely as not related to the veteran’s service or exposure to herbicide agents like Agent Orange.” If the report does not contain this specific wording, then the VA may deny the claim.
The VA looks for specific terms and wording in Veterans’ claims. Make sure that your medical professional has the necessary wording when they write up your medical report.
If you are a Veteran with an autoimmune disorder and don’t know whether or not your doctor is familiar with writing reports like this, it will be in your best interest to find a VA medical doctor who is familiar with VA procedures.
Appealing a VA Decision
Sadly, there are many cases where a Veteran with an autoimmune disease will have to appeal a rating decision on a VA claim, regardless of how much medical evidence they provide.
An appeal may be necessary when a Veteran receives a VA rating and monetary compensation that’s too low. It will also be necessary when the VA denies a claim based on your medical records about your autoimmune disorder.
If you are not satisfied with the VA’s decision regarding your claim, you should act quickly. Veterans have one year from the time of the VA’s decision to appeal, or else they will have to start the whole claims process all over again.
Because the appeals process can be more difficult than the initial claims process, having an attorney to advocate for you will greatly help your results.
Many Veterans are unfamiliar with VA procedures, making it easy for them to miss certain things that the VA requires.
An experienced attorney will ensure that you have all of the necessary components for your appeal so that you can get the benefits that you deserve.
Agent Orange continues to affect countless Veterans, including in the form of autoimmune disorders. Though the VA considers some autoimmune disorders to be presumptive conditions for Agent Orange exposure, they do not include all autoimmune disorders —including common ones like Graves disease.
If a Veteran has an autoimmune disorder that the VA does not consider a presumptive condition, they will have to supply more evidence than is usually required for service members’ Agent Orange claims.
For more information on Veteran claims and benefits, visit the Berry Law website to set up a free consultation with an experienced disability attorney.
What Is Agent Orange? | The Aspen Institute
Agent Orange Exposure and VA Disability Compensation | Veterans Affairs
Autoimmune Disorders | Healthline