BY DAVID L. HOUPPERT, ESQ., DIRECTOR, VETERANS BENEFITS
On October 13, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki announced three additions to the presumptive service-connected list of diseases associated with exposure to certain herbicide agents. Due to presumed exposure to herbicides collectively referred to as Agent Orange, Secretary Shinseki has determined that B cell leukemias, Parkinson’s disease, and ischemic heart disease will allow presumptive service connection. What follows is a brief overview of these conditions.
Leukemias are a very complex group of diseases. B cell leukemia refers to several types of lymphoid leukemia that affect B cells. These types of leukemia include B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, mature B-cell type, B-cell prolymphoblastic leukemia, mature B-cell type, B-cell prolymphocytic leukemia, precursor B lymphoblastic leukemia, and hairy cell leukemia.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Parkinson’s disease (PD) belongs to a group of conditions called motor system disorders, which are the result of the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. The four primary symptoms of PD are tremor, or trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face; rigidity, or stiffness of the limbs and trunk; bradykinesia, or slowness of movement; and postural instability, or impaired balance and coordination. As these symptoms become more pronounced, patients may have difficulty walking, talking, or completing other simple tasks. PD usually affects people over the age of 50.
Early symptoms of PD are subtle and occur gradually. In some people the disease progresses more quickly than in others. The shaking, or tremor, which affects the majority of PD patients, may begin to interfere with daily activities. Other symptoms may include depression and other emotional changes; difficulty in swallowing, chewing, and speaking; urinary problems or constipation; skin problems; and sleep disruptions.
There currently is no blood or laboratory test that diagnoses sporadic PD. Therefore, the diagnosis is based on medical history and a neurological examination. The disease can be difficult to diagnose accurately. Doctors may sometimes request brain scans or laboratory tests in order to rule out other diseases.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the NIH, coronary artery disease (also known as ischemic heart disease) is a condition in which plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries. These arteries supply the heart muscles with oxygen-rich blood. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood. When plaque builds up in the arteries, the condition is called atherosclerosis.
To qualify for presumptive service-connected Agent Orange disability compensation, you generally need to prove two things. First, that you served on active duty in the military, naval, or air service in the Republic of Vietnam during the period January 9, 1962, to May 7, 1975. Second, you must also have a current diagnosis of one of the diseases on the VA’s list of conditions linked to herbicide exposure, or you currently must have residual or secondary conditions from one of these illnesses.
At the time of this writing, all we know for certain is that the VA is going to recognize B cell leukemias, Parkinson’s disease, and ischemic heart disease. Proposed rules have not yet been published in the Federal Register, and we do not yet know when new regulations will become effective. If you are a Vietnam veteran suffering from one of these diseases, or a surviving family member who qualifies for VA benefits, VVA urges you to contact an accredited service officer immediately. The same holds true if you suffer from one of these conditions and the VA previously denied your claim.
Early action on your part may provide you with a more beneficial effective date on your claim. The effective date will have a direct bearing on any applicable retroactive payment from the VA on your claim.
We will continue to keep you updated on this very important issue.