Over a quarter million Vietnam War veterans may be able to start applying and qualifying for benefits from the Department of Veteran Affairs related to Agent Orange exposure. New regulations will make it easier for veterans to be compensated for their health problems due to the defoliant.
Three illnesses have been added to the list of conditions for which veterans are not required to demonstrate a connection to military service, according to VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. Those diseases are Parkinson’s disease, ischemic heart disease and all forms of chronic B-cell leukemia. The new regulations are set for publication in Tuesday’s Federal Register.
The VA office will also look over 90,000 claims from veterans who were previously denied benefits for Agent Orange-related health problems.
The changes are due to take effect in the next year and a half. The revisions could speed up the claims process and result in payouts of about $42 billion over the next 10 years, with almost $13 billion being paid in the first year, according to VA officials.
Some lawmakers do not agree with the new Agent Orange regulations, claiming the diseases are common ailments of American elderly, regardless of previous military service.
Other criticism stems from the fact that many think it will cost the American government way too much money. Any veteran who served in Vietnam from Jan. 9, 1962, to May 7, 1975, is entitled to the presumption that they may have been exposed.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said Michael Walcoff, the VA’s acting Secretary for Benefits.
Walcoff also added that the new claims process would not begin right away. A 60-day congressional review period must be completed after the rule is published in the Federal Register, even though Congress has already included $13.4 billion for Agent Orange-related benefits in this year’s $58 billion supplementary spending budget.
Shinseki is due to testify Sept. 23 before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee regarding the new Agent Orange rule.
Agent Orange is the code name for one of the herbicides and defoliants that the U.S. military used as part of its warfare program, “Operation Ranch Hand,” during the Vietnam War.
Photo thanks to trepelu under creative common license on Flickr.