- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

Where do we stand now regarding Parkinson’s disease being added as a presumptive disorder regarding benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs? — David B.

Dear David,

While a final regulation is yet to be published, VA is aware that more than 100,000 veterans were exposed to herbicides such as Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam and other areas. Thusly, these veterans will have an easier path to qualify for disability benefits under the proposed regulation, which adds three new illnesses to the list of health problems found to be related to Agent Orange and other herbicide exposures.

The regulation follows Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki’s October 2009 decision to add the three illnesses to the current list of diseases for which service connection for Vietnam veterans is presumed. The illnesses are B-cell leukemias such as hairy cell leukemia, Parkinson’s disease and ischemic heart disease.

Mr. Shinseki’s decision is based on the latest evidence of an association with widely used herbicides such as Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, as determined in an independent study by the Institute of Medicine.

Even though this is a proposed rule, VA encourages Vietnam veterans with these three diseases to submit their applications for compensation now so that the agency can begin developing their claims and so veterans can receive benefits from the date of their applications once the rule is finalized.

More than 80,000 veterans will have past claims reviewed and may be eligible for retroactive payment, and all who are currently ineligible for enrollment in the VA health care system will become eligible.

Agent Orange — used in Vietnam to defoliate trees and remove concealment for the enemy — and other herbicides left a legacy of suffering and disability that continues to this day.

The new rule will bring the number of illnesses presumed to be associated with herbicide exposure to 14 and significantly expand the VA’s current definition of leukemia to include a much broader range beyond chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

In practical terms, veterans who served in Vietnam during the war and have a “presumed” illness don’t have to prove an association between their illnesses and their military service. This “presumption” simplifies and speeds up the application process for benefits.

Other illnesses previously recognized under VA’s “presumption” rule as being caused by exposure to herbicides during the Vietnam War are:

• AL amyloidosis

• aacute and subacute peripheral neuropathy

• chloracne (or other acneform disease similar to chloracne

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