Tom Philpott | April 01, 2010 / MILITARY.com
New Agent Orange Rule to Allow Retro Claims by 86,000
About 86,000 Vietnam War veterans, their surviving spouses or estates will be eligible for retroactive disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs -- an average of 11.4 years for veterans and 9.6 years for survivors -- under a draft VA rule to expand by three the number of diseases presumed caused by herbicide exposure in the war.
The 86,000 are beneficiaries who can reopen previously denied claims for these conditions: ischemic heart disease, Parkinson's disease and chronic B-cell blood cancers including hairy cell leukemia. But another 29,000 claims are expected to be approved this year for Vietnam veterans suffering from these diseases but applying for benefits for the first time.
The projected cost of this dramatic expansion of claims linked to Agent Orange and other defoliants deployed four decades ago is $13.6 billion this fiscal year and $42.2 billion over 10 years. VA plans to hire 1772 new claims processors, starting this October, to be able to handle these claims "without significantly degrading the processing of the non-presumptive workload."
In the proposed rule published March 25 in the Federal Register, VA officials explained that Secretary Eric Shinseki has cut the usual 60-day public comment period by half "to promote rapid action" on these claims.
When a final rule is published, soon after April 26, VA claim offices across the country can begin making payments. Veterans with these diseases will need to show they set foot in Vietnam during the war. Those who served aboard ship just off the coast remain ineligible.
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