A family is reflected in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial before a wreath-laying ceremony with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and VA Secretary Denis McDonough in Washington, DC, March 29, 2021. Defense Department photo by Lisa Ferdinando.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs will add three new conditions to the list of illnesses it acknowledges were caused by Agent Orange exposure, the VA announced last week.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 added bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism to the list of illnesses presumed to be connected to Agent Orange exposure. The VA already has linked numerous cancers and diseases to the powerful herbicide used by the US during the Vietnam War to remove leaves from trees and plants.
Veterans with a presumptive condition connected to Agent Orange face fewer hurdles in accessing VA health care and benefits.
“Many of our Nation’s Veterans have waited a long time for these benefits,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “VA will not make them wait any longer. This is absolutely the right thing to do for Veterans and their families.”
The VA did not provide a timeline for benefits. But the agency said Vietnam War-era veterans who suffer from one of the three new presumptive conditions who previously filed claims and were denied will have their cases automatically reviewed, and they — or their survivors — do not need to refile.
Last month, the VA said it would automatically reexamine claims from vets who were exposed to Agent Orange while serving in the offshore waters of Vietnam. That move came after the 2019 passage of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act and a 2020 ruling from a district court in San Francisco.
The department also announced it is considering creating new presumptions of service connection for certain respiratory conditions, which may include asthma, sinusitis, and rhinitis, for veterans who served in the Southwest Asia theater of operations during the Persian Gulf War or during the Global War on Terror.
“VA is establishing a holistic approach to determining toxic exposure presumption going forward,” McDonough said in a statement.
That announcement came one day after comedian and activist Jon Stewart joined lawmakers in calling for passage of legislation to aid veterans suffering from illnesses believed to be linked to toxic exposures during deployments.
Hannah Ray Lambert is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die who previously covered everything from murder trials to high school trap shooting teams. She spent several months getting tear gassed during the 2020-2021 civil unrest in Portland, Oregon. When she’s not working, Hannah enjoys hiking, reading, and talking about authors and books on her podcast Between Lewis and Lovecraft.
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