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VA Issues Final Rule on Agent Orange Exposure

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, August 31, 2010

Veterans of Vietnam and other armed conflicts who have been exposed to herbicides will have easier access to healthcare services and will qualify for disability compensation under a final regulation published Tuesday in the Federal Register by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The new rule expands the list of health problems VA presumes to be related to Agent Orange and other herbicide exposures with two new conditions and an expanded category for another condition.

The final regulation follows a determination by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to expand the list of conditions based on the requirements of the Agent Orange Act of 1991 and the Institute of Medicine's 2008 Update on Agent Orange. VA is adding Parkinson's disease and ischemic heart disease and expanding chronic lymphocytic leukemia to include all chronic B cell leukemias, such as hairy cell leukemia.

Under the new provision, veterans who served in Vietnam during the war will be "presumed" to have had the illness, according to the VA. This means vets no longer will have to prove a link between their medical problems and their military service. This "presumption" is designed to simplify and speed up the application process.

Veterans who served in Vietnam anytime between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, are presumed to have been exposed to herbicides. More than 150,000 Veterans are expected to submit Agent Orange claims in the next 12 to 18 months—many of whom are potentially eligible for retroactive disability payments based on past claims.

In addition, the VA will review about 90,000 previously denied claims for Vietnam Veterans for service connections for these conditions. Those with service-related connections—and who are not currently eligible for enrollment into the VA healthcare system—will become eligible.

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