SGT. SHAFT: Agent Orange victim denied benefits

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Dear Sgt. Shaft,

My husband is on the Agent Orange list, but cannot receive any benefits because his ship, USS Ernest G. Small, is not on the list. Is there anything we can do? — Peggy W.

Dear Peggy,

I am not sure if this would help your husband; however, for your information:

Following oversight requests from Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), the Department of Veterans Affairs has agreed to review the cases of nearly 17,000 “Brown Water” and other Vietnam Era veterans who claimed disabilities related to Agent Orange. VA had previously denied a number of claims without properly determining whether veterans served in Vietnam’s inland waterways (“Brown Water”) or otherwise served in locations where veterans may have been exposed to herbicides, such as Agent Orange.

Akaka successfully urged VA to reconsider cases in which claims by Vietnam veterans potentially exposed to Agent Orange were denied without obtaining relevant military records, such as deck logs. These claims had been held in abeyance by VA while litigation was pending concerning so-called “Blue Water” veterans and their exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides, and were subsequently denied. Akaka discovered that many of these veterans actually served in so-called “Brown Water” or inland waters of Vietnam, and should have received the same presumption of service-connection as veterans who had “boots on the ground” in Vietnam. By law, VA presumes that veterans who served in inland waterways were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides. Any of those veterans who suffer from certain diseases, and their survivors, may qualify for monetary benefits and health care.

With this review, certain veterans who were previously considered “Blue Water” veterans will have their claims re-evaluated for evidence of “Brown Water” service, or evidence of service in other locations where VA acknowledges that herbicides may have been used, such as the perimeter of Air Force bases in Thailand.

Senator Akaka’s Veterans’ Affairs Committee website provides a list of the ships VA has acknowledged traveled in inland waters, as well as evidence about other ships that the committee has received.

A list of the ships identified to have traveled in Vietnam’s inland waters by VA is available at the Web site for the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Shaft Notes

‘Attaboy’ to Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Florida Republican, who recently introduced a bill to help children of military families in the TRICARE health insurance program.

As of Sept. 23, federal health care reform requires health insurers to offer coverage to adult children on their parents’ policy until age 26. However, the new law doesn’t apply to TRICARE. This bill would require TRICARE to cover dependent adult children until they are 26 so that there is parity with health reform. Without this fix, members of the Department of Defense will not be able to cover their adult children while civilians and federal employees will be able to cover theirs.

The bill is a one-year fix and a companion bill to S. 3846 that was filed Sept. 27 by Sens. Akaka and Susan Collins, Maine Republican.

                                                              • • •

Kudos to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki for publishing a final regulation in the Federal Register that makes it easier for veterans to obtain VA health care and disability compensation for certain diseases associated with service in Southwest Asia:

“This is part of historic changes in how VA considers Gulf War Veterans’ illnesses,” said Secretary Shinseki. “By setting up scientifically based presumptions of service connection, we give these deserving Veterans a simple way to obtain the medical and compensation benefits they earned in service to our country.”

The final regulation establishes new presumptions of service connection for nine specific infectious diseases associated with military service in Southwest Asia beginning on or after the start of the first Gulf War on Aug. 2, 1990, through the conflict in Iraq and on or after Sept. 19, 2001, in Afghanistan.

The final regulation reflects a determination of a positive association between service in Southwest Asia or Afghanistan and nine diseases and includes information about the long-term health effects potentially associated with these diseases: Brucellosis, Campylobacter jejuni, Coxiella Burnetii (Q fever), Malaria, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Nontyphoid Salmonella, Shigella, Visceral leishmaniasis and West Nile virus.

With the final rule, a Veteran will only have to show service in Southwest Asia or Afghanistan and that he or she had one of the nine diseases within a certain time after service and has a current disability as a result of that disease, subject to certain time limits for seven of the diseases. Most of these diseases would be diagnosed within one year of return from service, through some conditions may manifest at a later time.

For non-presumptive conditions, a Veteran is required to provide medical evidence to establish an actual connection between military service in Southwest Asia or Afghanistan and a specific disease.

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

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