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SGT. SHAFT: VA denies claim for lung disease victim

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Dear Sgt. Shaft,

I'm so depressed because the VA office denied my claim on behalf of my deceased husband, who died as a result of interstitial pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). He served in Vietnam when Agent Orange was sprayed.

My husband was in the U.S. Marine Corps stationed in Vietnam from 1966 to 1969 when Agent Orange was sprayed. He developed interstitial pulmonary fibrosis in 2006. He died in July 2008. He suffered so much. He was angry with the government (military service) because he felt that the toxic chemical was what was killing him.

If they can grant presumptive illness like diabetes (which is and can be hereditary), surely they can see that the chemical has a true association to causing IPF.

Will IPF be considered in the future by the VA as being associated? I hear that new information on Agent Orange will be released in the next few weeks.

There are many vets who are suffering with IPF and many who have died with IPF. All were denied VA claims as associated Agent Orange.

Concerned and depressed widow of a U.S. Marine (via the Internet)

Dear Concerned,

With passage of the Agent Orange Act of 1991, Congress established a procedure for adding diseases to the Department of Veterans Affairs list of disabilities presumptively associated with herbicide exposure. The procedure requires the Secretary of the VA to consider reports received from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and all other sound medical and scientific information and analysis on the health effects of herbicide exposure.

When NAS reviews of scientific studies, and other available evidence, indicate that a positive statistical association exists between herbicide exposure and the occurrence of a disease in humans, the secretary will review the evidence and determine whether the disease will be added to the list.

The latest NAS report, "Veterans and Agent Orange," Update 2008 (2009), concluded that, although there is scientific evidence associating respiratory cancers with herbicide exposure, there is "inadequate or insufficient evidence" of such an association between herbicide exposure and nonmalignant respiratory diseases, such as interstitial pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). This report is available on the Internet at www.nas.edu.

In order for a disease to be added to the VA presumptive list, scientific evidence must exist to support its relationship to herbicide exposure. Since this relationship has not currently been shown for IPF, it has not been added to the presumptive list. This situation is subject to change based on future NAS reviews and reports.

However, service connection is also possible on a direct basis for any disease, including IPF, if there is sufficient medical evidence establishing that the disease is related to an individual veteran's period of service.

Also for your information Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat, chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, recently held an oversight hearing on the existing VA process for presuming service-connection for veterans' disabilities. Looking beyond the recent expansion of Agent Orange-related presumptions, witnesses and committee members discussed potential improvements to the process to be used in connection with possible exposures to future generations.

"By granting 'presumptions,' VA creates a blanket assumption of service-connection for a group of veterans, bypassing the standard process for disability claims. The process Congress set in place for Agent Orange presumptions serves as a precedent for Gulf War Illness. We have a responsibility to set up an appropriate process for potential toxic exposures from Iraq, Afghanistan, and on military bases where there may be environmental hazards. It is critical that the process for establishing presumptive disabilities is sound, science-based, and transparent," Akaka said.

The committee's witnesses included Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and former Secretary Anthony Principi, as well as medical and scientific experts.

More information about the hearing including statements, testimony and the webcast is available at: http://veterans.senate.gov.

Shaft notes

Kudos to the federal government employees who will again soon be contributing to charitable organizations through the combined Federal Campaign program. As many of you know, the Sarge has a strong relationship with the all-volunteer Blinded American Veterans Foundation (BAVF). For any of my readers that would like to contribute, the CFC code number is 11282.

The Sarge was there on Wednesday, Sept. 22, when Rep. Bob Filner, California Democrat, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs; and Mr. Akaka conducted a joint hearing to receive an in-depth presentation from the American Legion.

More than 100 Legionnaires and family members attended the hearing to support the National Commander of the American Legion, Jimmie Foster, as he delivered a comprehensive analysis of the Department of Veterans' Affairs' capability to serve millions of the country's veterans.

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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