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U.S. Veterans Affairs Announces Sweeping Changes to Eligibility and Coverage for Toxic Exposure Cases

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It is an unfortunate reality that many Veterans step away from fighting overseas only to face a new fight at home just to receive the benefits they’re entitled to. There is plenty of experienced legal support available, but without meaningful changes to Veterans Affairs itself, it can be difficult and expensive to make a case for a condition that isn’t already covered.

Thankfully, some long-overdue reforms are currently in the works.

In a move that should start to clear away some roadblocks to Veterans receiving benefits for service-related medical conditions, two new decisions regarding the presumptions of service connection have been announced by Denis McDonough, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

The Presumptions of Service Connection are the guidelines the VA uses when evaluating cases, with verified conditions automatically gaining approval without excessive requirements placed on the veterans themselves.

Agent Orange Exposures

Per the first decision, Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam era have had the following ailments added to the list of conditions presumptively associated with exposure to Agent Orange:

  • Bladder Cancer
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Parkinsonism

The VA will be applying provisions from the William M. Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (P.L. 116-283) as well as those court orders related to Nehmer v. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Vietnam Era Veterans and their survivors who previously filed and were denied benefits for any of these three new presumptive conditions will have their cases automatically reviewed. They will not need to refile, and will receive a letter from the VA on the updated status of their claim. Additionally, the new provisions may result in earlier dates for entitlement to benefits.

Burn Pit Exposures

The second decision covers Veterans who served in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Southwest Asia during the Persian Gulf War and after September 11, 2001.

Due to widespread use of burn pits to handle garbage in these theater, recent scientific evidence has convinced the VA to consider creating new presumptions of service connection for chronic respiratory conditions.

These conditions may include:

  • Asthma
  • Sinusitis
  • Rhinitis

The VA has described their approach to these cases as “holistic” with a strong basis on science. Given a growing base of scientific literature about the toxic exposures of burn pits, a practice common during these Veterans’ eras of conflict, this is an important first step towards establishing these new presumptions.

What’s Next?

If you or a loved one are affected by these decisions, you’re probably already familiar with the steps you need to take to establish your claim.

Mostly, it’s about organizing the right combination of documents.

  • A copy of your DD Form 214 discharge paperwork
  • All available deployment orders and reports
  • Any relevant medical recommendations

If you’re confident in your paperwork and the strength of your claim, filing may wind up being a relatively smooth process for you.

For the rest of us, legal teams dedicated to Veterans’ disability benefits are on hand throughout Indiana to assist with every step of the process, including an evaluation of how much legal assistance you actually require to make a successful claim.

Hopefully, this recent news has made that job easier and the financial impact on Veterans lower.