Many veterans have health problems that can be connected to their exposure to the toxic Agent Orange tactical herbicide used during the Vietnam War. Congress passed a law in 1991 that allows the VA to presume Agent Orange caused a disability if a veteran had boots on the ground or service on inland waterways between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975.
In 1979, an Air Force scientist named Richard Albanese began a massive $143 million study of the veterans who sprayed Agent Orange. He and his team found that the children of those vets had more birth defects than those of veterans who hadn’t handled the chemical, but they could not pinpoint a cause. This information led to Public Law 98-542, which gave veterans access to medical treatment and disability compensation for certain diseases linked to Agent Orange exposure.
However, to receive these benefits, a veteran must establish a link, or “nexus,” between their condition and military service. This normally requires a doctor’s opinion, but some doctors can be skeptical of the connection between Agent Orange and certain diseases. This is why working with a veteran’s attorney is important when seeking these benefits. The lawyers can help you build the strongest possible case for your claim. Furthermore, find out more here to better understand how an attorney can assist you in your legal proceedings.
VA’s Presumption of Exposure
Veterans who served in Vietnam, the DMZ, Thailand, and elsewhere where Agent Orange was sprayed to defoliate trees in the region qualify for disability compensation because VA presumes exposure to the toxic herbicide. However, proving actual exposure is difficult, as Shinseki conceded at a medical symposium this summer.
Some conditions, like hypothyroidism (too little of certain thyroid hormones that regulate critical metabolic processes) and ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, are presumed to be related to Agent Orange exposure, bladder cancer, and other diseases. VA has added some conditions to the presumptive list through regulations or statutes, including AL amyloidosis (abnormal proteins accumulating in body tissues and organs) and soft tissue sarcomas. However, many veterans with other illnesses not on the presumptive list must prove their condition came from exposure to Agent Orange to receive benefits.
When the Air Force spray crews were withdrawn from Vietnam in 1979, some veterans began to worry that their exposure to Agent Orange had harmed their children. They reported that their children had unusual defects, such as missing or extra limbs, which didn’t run in their families. Government studies dismissed the claims.
VA now presumes that Vietnam War veterans diagnosed with certain illnesses have a service connection for the conditions, even without evidence of a direct link between the toxic chemical and their diagnosis. The list of presumptive conditions includes Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and chronic respiratory diseases.
VA researchers are continuing to explore the possibility of linking some birth defects to Agent Orange, including the potential for epigenetic effects that can affect multiple generations. They have urged vets with children to share their medical history and exposure information in the hope that this study will prove whether or not their children’s conditions can be linked to their veterans’ service.
A buddy statement is one of the most powerful evidence for any claim. This lay evidence can be submitted to the VA by friends, family members, and other veterans who have served with the claimant.
This type of evidence can often verify information that may have yet to be documented in medical records or other official documents. For example, if you claim sleep apnea, a buddy statement from another veteran who served with you can provide credibility and testimony about hearing you snore or choke while on duty, which isn’t typically documented in official records.
In cases involving Military Sexual Trauma (MST), a buddy statement from someone who served with the MST survivor can corroborate that they were assaulted and help explain their symptoms, which would also fill in gaps in medical records because MST often goes unreported. This is particularly effective when the MST victim has no other medical documentation of their condition.