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Senate Reviews Agent Orange Disability Coverage

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, September 28, 2010

Two Department of Veterans Affairs secretaries—one past and one present—told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee last week that they still stood behind their decisions to add diabetes, prostate cancer, heart disease, Parkinson's disease, and leukemia to the those conditions that VA officials can "presume" to be caused by Agent Orange exposure among Vietnam War veterans.

With associated cases and costs quickly rising, the Senate is panel is reviewing the landmark 1991 Agent Orange regulation that has set the tone in terms of how disability claims are handled in regard to the herbicide and defoliant widely used during the Vietnam War. By granting a “presumption," the VA creates a way to bypass the standard process for filing disability claims.

In 1991, rare conditions such as soft-tissure sarcoma or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma were included on the initial list that could be considered for service-related claims for Agent Orange exposure. About 5,000 of those claims have been filed over the years, according to figures released by Sen. James Webb (D-VA) at the hearing.

But gradually other conditions—many of which could be considered the "diseases of ordinary life"—have been added over the years, amounting to nearly a total of half a million new VA claims, Webb said.

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