- 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

• chronic lymphocytic leukemia (now being expanded)

• diabetes mellitus (type 2)

• non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

• porphyria cutanea tarda

• prostate cancer

• respiratory cancers (cancer of the lung, bronchus, larynx, or trachea)

• soft tissue sarcoma (other than ocsteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma)

Additional information about Agent Orange and VA services for veterans exposed to the chemical are available at www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange.

Shaft notes

Mr. Shinsekirecently announced that the VA is offering bronze medallions to attach to existing, privately purchased headstones or markers, signifying a deceased’s status as a veteran:

“For veterans not buried in a national or state veterans cemetery, or those without a government grave marker, VA is pleased to offer this option that highlights their service and sacrifices for our country,” said Secretary Shinseki.

The new item can be furnished instead of a traditional government headstone or marker for veterans whose death occurred on or after Nov. 1, 1990, and whose grave in a private cemetery is marked with a privately purchased headstone or marker.

Under federal law, eligible Veterans buried in a private cemetery are entitled to either a government-furnished grave marker or the new medallion, but not both. Veterans buried in a national or state Veterans cemetery will receive a government headstone or marker of the standard design authorized at that cemetery.

The medallion is available in three sizes: 5 inches, 3 inches and 1 ½ inches in width. Each bronze medallion features the image of a folded burial flag adorned with laurels and is inscribed with the word “Veteran” at the top and the branch of service at the bottom.

Next of kin will receive the medallion, along with a kit that will allow the family or the staff of a private cemetery to affix the medallion to a headstone, grave marker, mausoleum or columbarium niche cover.

More information about VA-furnished headstones, markers and medallions can be found at http://www.cem.va.gov/cem/hm/hmtype.asp.

• Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, DC 20035-5900; fax: 301/622-3330; call: 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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