In most circumstances a veteran filing a claim for service connected disability benefits must submit evidence that demonstrates that his or her disability was caused by something that occurred during service. However, for veterans that served on the ground during the Vietnam War, VA will will presume that certain illnesses and conditions were caused by dioxin and other chemicals present in a herbicide called Agent Orange that was heavily used during the conflict. These conditions include the following:
Cancers believed to be caused by contact with Agent Orange
Chronic B-cell Leukemia: A type of cancer that affects your white blood cells (cells in your body’s immune system that help to fight off illnesses and infections)
Hodgkin’s Disease: A type of cancer that causes your lymph nodes, liver, and spleen to get bigger and your red blood cells to decrease (called anemia)
Multiple Myeloma: A type of cancer that affects your plasma cells (white blood cells made in your bone marrow that help to fight infection)
Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: A group of cancers that affect the lymph glands and other lymphatic tissue (a part of your immune system that helps to fight infection and illness)
Prostate Cancer: Cancer of the prostate (the gland in men that helps to make semen)
Respiratory Cancers (including lung cancer): Cancers of the organs involved in breathing (including the lungs, larynx, trachea, and bronchus)
Soft Tissue Sarcomas (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma): Different types of cancers in body tissues such as muscle, fat, blood and lymph vessels, and connective tissues
Other illnesses believed to be caused by contact with Agent Orange
AL Amyloidosis: A rare illness that happens when an abnormal protein (called amyloid) builds up in your body’s tissues, nerves, or organs (like your heart, kidneys, or liver) and causes damage over time
Chloracne (or other types of acneform disease like it): A skin condition that happens soon after contact with chemicals and looks like acne often seen in teenagers. Under our rating regulations, it must be at least 10% disabling within 1 year of contact with herbicides.
Diabetes Mellitus Type 2: An illness that happens when your body is unable to properly use insulin (a hormone that turns blood glucose, or sugar, into energy), leading to high blood sugar levels
Ischemic Heart Disease: A type of heart disease that happens when your heart doesn’t get enough blood (and the oxygen the blood carries). It often causes chest pain or discomfort.
Parkinson’s Disease: An illness of the nervous system (the network of nerves and fibers that send messages between your brain and spinal cord and other areas of your body) that affects your muscles and movement—and gets worse over time
Peripheral Neuropathy, Early Onset: An illness of the nervous system that causes numbness, tingling, and weakness. Under our rating regulations, it must be at least 10% disabling within 1 year of contact with herbicides.
Porphyria Cutanea Tarda: A rare illness that can make your liver stop working the way it should and can cause your skin to thin and blister when you’re out in the sun. Under VA’s rating regulations, it must be at least 10% disabling within 1 year of contact with herbicides.
Exposure to Agent Orange must be proven. In some instances this is simple. All veterans who served in-country in Vietnam are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. If a veteran was stationed in Vietnam, often this fact is noted on the veteran’s DD214.
However, matters are not quite as simple for veterans that did not physically serve in-country during the Vietnam War. For example, if a blue-water Navy veteran disembarked in-country there is often no record, and proving exposure to Agent Orange is more difficult. Cases in which exposure to Agent Orange in an area other than Vietnam is claimed can also be difficult to prove. Once exposure to Agent Orange is proven, a veteran only needs to show that he or she has been diagnosed with one of the above conditions, and service connection will be granted.
This article is authored through the collaborative efforts of Shana Dunn, Travis James West, and other legal professionals at West & Dunn, a law firm dedicated to providing high quality legal services to individuals and businesses, with a particular focus on assisting veterans of the United States Armed Forces. If you have questions or would like assistance with your VA claim, the attorneys at West & Dunn can be reached at 608-535-6420.