Agent Orange claim payments may start in October
The Department of Veterans Affairs is set to start making payments to the first of thousands of disability claims to Vietnam veterans with Ischemic Heart disease, Parkinson's disease and B-cell leukemia. Those illnesses are the newly associated diseases to exposure to defoliants, including Agent Orange, used in the Vietnam war.
A 60-day countdown to the day in October that VA can start compensating up to 86,000 veterans retroactively for these diseases will begin when VA publishes its final implementing regulation, which could be this week.
Congress signaled a strong support to these veterans in July when the Senate and the House passed the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2010 (HR 4899) which included $13.4 billion for VA to pay the first wave of compensation claims for these diseases.
VA estimates this expansion of Agent Orange-related claims, which VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced last October, will benefit over time more than 153,000 and cost more than $42 billion in its first decade of payments.
Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) will lead a review during the countdown and added language to the war supplemental stating that, as the Congressional Review Act requires, none of the $13.4 billion can be spent for 60 days. This will give Congress time to weigh the cost and review the science behind the decision.
Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) has scheduled a Sept. 23 hearing where presumably VA officials and independent medical researchers will explain why these diseases should be compensable for any veteran who suffers from them and served even a day in Vietnam.
Webb who serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, feels the VA is interpreting the Agent Orange Law of 1991 too liberally, linking ailments generally associated with aging to wartime exposures, and committing VA to billions of dollars in added compensation payment, because Congress chose to forfeit its own oversight responsibilities.
The 2001 decision linking Type II diabetes to Agent Orange has resulted in more than 220,000 veterans -- nearly one in 10 who served in Vietnam -- drawing disability compensation for an illness often associated with unhealthy diets, aging or family history, noted Webb.
Since March, the VA has been urging veterans with these diseases, or their survivors, to file claims immediately because of delays while the case was going through the courts and payments will be retroactive to the claim filing date.
VA lawyers argued the delays were unavoidable and told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit the impact of the missed deadlines is minimized by the fact that payments, when they begin, will be retroactive to the date original claims were filed.
Groups who joined in the lawsuit, including Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Non-Commissioned Officers Association, can provide the relief they seek "by encouraging their members to file benefits claims immediately, thereby establishing an effective date for their benefits prior to publication of the final regulation," VA advised the appeals court.
One brief filled noted that of the 200,000 expected claims, only 50,000 claims have been received so far. Thus 150,000 Vietnam veterans continue to be prejudiced by the VA's delay, and there is simply no basis for the VA's suggestion that petitioners can and have obtained' the relief they seek.