Agent Orange presumptive exposure and connected medical conditions expanded for VA disability claims
Published November 18, 2022
The recently passed PACT Act is a new law that expands VA disability benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances, including Agent Orange, radiation, and burn pits. If you are a veteran who served during the Vietnam/Korea eras and were, or may have been, exposed to Agent Orange, you’ll want to know about the expanded scope of presumed exposure and presumptively connected medical conditions.
A recap of presumptions in VA disability benefit claims
When veterans apply for VA disability benefits, the VA will review the claim file to determine (1) whether the veteran has a disability; and (2) whether it is service-connected. Sometimes this process is complicated and hard to prove. For example, if you served in the Vietnam war and were recently diagnosed with cancer, how can you definitively prove that your possible exposure to Agent Orange may have caused that cancer?
With the use of certain presumptions of fact, however, a veterans burden of proof can be lowered. For example, the VA has already had in place a list of service geographical areas and service time frames, and presumptive conditions for Agent Orange-related illnesses. If you served in locations X during Y timeframe and then later are diagnosed with Z illness, the VA will assume that a connection exists between your service and the illness. This can dramatically simplify and shorten the VA disability claims process.
Over the course of time, new presumptive conditions are approved in law and through the VA, and the PACT Act adds some new presumptions. Listed below are expansions in coverage for presumptions of Agent Orange exposure and connected conditions. Click here if you would like to see presumptions for radiation exposure or burn pit toxin exposure also contained within the PACT Act.
Vietnam War/Agent Orange-related medical conditions
Before the PACT Act, if you served in Vietnam anytime between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975, including brief visits ashore or service aboard a ship that operated on the inland waterways of Vietnam, or in or near the Korean demilitarized zone anytime between April 1, 1968 and August 31, 1971, the VA presumed that you were exposed to Agent Orange.
With the passage of the PACT Act, 5 new locations have been added to that list of presumed exposure:
- Any U.S. or Royal Thai military base in Thailand from January 9, 1962, through June 30, 1976
- Laos from December 1, 1965, through September 30, 1969
- Cambodia at Mimot or Krek, Kampong Cham Province from April 16, 1969, through April 30, 1969
- Guam or American Samoa or in the territorial waters off of Guam or American Samoa from January 9, 1962, through July 30, 1980
- Johnston Atoll or on a ship that called at Johnston Atoll from January 1, 1972, through September 30, 1977
(Keep in mind that even without a presumptive exposure to Agent Orange, veterans are still able to argue and prove exposure. This is especially true for veterans who served on or near the perimeters of military bases in Thailand during the Vietnam Era, served where herbicides were tested and stored outside of Vietnam, were crewmembers on C-123 planes flown after the Vietnam War, and veterans associated Department of Defense (DoD) projects to test, dispose of, or store herbicides in the U.S.)
Before the PACT Act, the following conditions were presumptively connected to Agent Orange exposure:
- AL Amyloidosis rare disease caused when an abnormal protein, amyloid, enters tissues or organs
- Chronic B-cell Leukemias type of cancer which affects white blood cells
- Chloracne (or similar acneform disease) skin condition that occurs soon after exposure to chemicals and looks like common forms of acne seen in teenagers. Under VA’s rating regulations, it must be at least 10 percent disabling within one year of exposure to herbicides.
- Diabetes Mellitus Type 2 disease characterized by high blood sugar levels resulting from the body’s inability to respond properly to the hormone insulin
- Hodgkin’s Disease malignant lymphoma (cancer) characterized by progressive enlargement of the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen, and by progressive anemia
- Ischemic Heart Disease disease characterized by a reduced supply of blood to the heart, that leads to chest pain
- Multiple Myeloma cancer of plasma cells, a type of white blood cell in bone marrow
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma group of cancers that affect the lymph glands and other lymphatic tissue
- Parkinson’s Disease progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects muscle movement
- Peripheral Neuropathy, Early-Onset nervous system condition that causes numbness, tingling, and motor weakness. Under VA’s rating regulations, it must be at least 10 percent disabling within one year of herbicide exposure.
- Porphyria Cutanea Tarda disorder characterized by liver dysfunction and by thinning and blistering of the skin in sun-exposed areas. Under VA’s rating regulations, it must be at least 10 percent disabling within one year of exposure to herbicides.
- Prostate Cancer of the prostate; one of the most common cancers among men
- Respiratory Cancers (includes lung cancer) of the lung, larynx, trachea, and bronchus
- Soft Tissue Sarcomas (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma) group of different types of cancers in body tissues such as muscle, fat, blood and lymph vessels, and connective tissues
- Children with Birth Defects: VA presumes certain birth defects in children of Vietnam and Korea Veterans associated with Veterans’ qualifying military service.
- Veterans with Lou Gehrig’s Disease: VA presumes Lou Gehrig’s Disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS) diagnosed in all Veterans who had 90 days or more continuous active military service is related to their service, although ALS is not related to Agent Orange exposure.
The PACT Act also added another 2 Agent Orange presumptively connected conditions: High blood pressure (hypertension) and Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS).
Should I pursue a claim for VA disability benefits?
If you are a military veteran with medical condition or disability that you believe was caused by, or aggravated by, your military service, you may file a claim for VA disability benefits. (Dishonorably discharged veterans are not eligible).
If you have already had a claim denied for one of the types of conditions or areas of service now declared to presumptively be service-connected, you will likely want to appeal that claim decision (if you are still within the year timeframe for appeal), or refile your claim if it has been longer.
Veterans Law Group helps thousands of veterans obtain millions of dollars in VA disability benefit back pay benefits every year. If you believe your VA disability claim was improperly denied or underrated in severity, VLG may be able to help you with an appeal. Click here for a free evaluation of your case.