VVA's Guide on AGENT ORANGE

Please read this notice on agent orange-December 04, 2002

 

Table of Contents:

What is Agent Orange
Diseases Currently Recognized by VA as related to Herbicide Exposure
Step 1: Get Help
Step 2: Apply
Direct Service Connect
Step 3: Get Exam
Step 4: Get Evidence
How Much Money
Step 5: Present Evidence
If You Lose: Appeal!
Help For Children
Working with your Rep
VA Medical Services
Social Security Benefits
Incarcerated Veterans
There Is More You Can Do!
Resources


The purpose of this guide is to assist you, the veteran or survivor, in presenting your claim based on the veteran’s exposure to herbicides in Vietnam in the best way possible to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). To accomplish this, it is best that you work with a trained veterans representative.

This guide describes the VA’s current programs for compensating exposed veterans or their survivors. Additonal resources are available to help you understand whether other VA programs may be available to you. (See last page.) The opportunity to apply for cash payments under the fund resulting from the lawsuit against the chemical companies which made Agent Orange expired in January 1995 and is not disussed in this guide.

There have been many changes in the VA’s rules involving Agent Orange over the past several years and some additional changes are likely as a result of on-going studies and lawsuits. One important change is that you no longer have to prove that you were exposed to herbicides—so long as you served in or near Vietnam. Keep in touch with your representative for additional changes that occur after the publication of this guide.

Even if you decide not to file a formal claim for VA benefits based on exposure to herbicides, you should at least contact the Agent Orange coordinator at the nearest VA medical center to obtain a free physical examination. You may also be entitled to free medical treatment at the VA medical center.

Finally, if you are disabled but don’t think your condition is due to exposure to herbicides, there may be other reasons that the VA would agree you should be paid monthly disability benefits. VVA has prepared a guide on VA Claims and Appeals that may help you.


STEP 1: GET HELP

It is a good idea to get a representative to help you present your claim to the VA. VA rules and procedures are very complicated. The rules regarding the effective dates of certain Agent Orange-related claims are particularly complicated. It can be frustrating and hazardous to go it alone.

Many veterans service organizations and state and county veterans service agencies offer free assistance. No matter who you select to represent you, it is important that you are personally involved in your case and make certain that everything that should be done, is done.

Although it can be a difficult task, shop around for the best representative. Talk to the prospective representative; ask if there are any limits on their service; get a feel for the person who will be working for you before you sign a power of attorney appointing the person as your representative.


WHAT IS AGENT ORANGE?

Agent Orange was one of the weed-killing chemicals used by the U.S. in Vietnam. The chemical compounds considered as herbicide agents in Vietnam include 2,4-D; 2,4,5-T and its contaminant TCDD (or dioxin); cacodylic acid and picloram.
Herbicides were applied by airplanes, helicopters, trucks and backpack sprayers. An official description of the Air Force’s use of herbicides is found in Operation Ranch Hand published by the Government Printing Office in 1982. Herbicides containing dioxin were used by the U.S. military to defoliate base camps and other facilities in the U.S. and in other countries as far back as the 1950s.

STEP 2: APPLY

  • When to Apply: You should notify the VA of the benefits you want at the earliest possible time. From anywhere in the U.S., you can call the nearest VA Regional Office (VARO) by using the following number: 1-800-827-1000. Do not wait until you have gathered all the evidence you think you need. Every day you delay can mean another day of benefits lost forever.
Warning: Do not be discouraged by a VA employee who says you are not entitled to benefits. Put your claim in writing and insist on a written reply from the VA.
  • How to Apply: To apply, send the VA a letter stating that you have a specific health problem and that you claim it is due to your exposure to herbicides while serving in Vietnam. This is called an informal claim and will count as an application (although you will eventually be required to fill out some VA forms). If you have not heard back from the VA within a month you should call to confirm that your application has been received. If you applied before, send a letter that says you are “reopening” your claim.
  • What to Apply For: The VA offers cash benefits to veterans with service-connected disabilities (under the compensation program) and to veterans with serious nonservice-connected disabilities (under the pension program). Survivors may be entitled to death benefits. The VA officially recognizes only certain diseases as related to exposure to herbicides. See box on next page. If a physician has diagnosed you with one of these conditions, you should not have too much trouble receiving benefits. Under a VA rule (38 C.F.R. § 3.309(e), the VA is to presume that your disease is service-connected.
  • Who Can Apply: Veterans who served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975 or who served in the waters just off-shore or who visited Vietnam are presumed to have been exposed to herbicides and can apply for service-connected compensation based on their service. Survivors of such veterans—including spouses or children and sometimes parents—can apply for service-connected death benefits (the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation or DIC program) or for the nonservice-connected death benefits (pension program).
WARNING: If you applied for a cash payment from the Agent Orange Payment Program (the fund created in 1984 out of the lawsuit against the chemical companies that made Agent Orange), that is not the same as applying to the VA for benefits. Also, if you obtained an Agent Orange Registry exam, you still must write to the nearest VA Regional Office and file a claim with it.

STEP 3: GET EXAM

If your application lays out a specific health problem, the VA ordinarily schedules you for an examination by a doctor at a VA hospital. This exam should be to confirm a specific disability, to confirm when it appeared, and to find out the severity of your condition.

You may be able to avoid this exam, if your own doctor will prepare a detailed report to the VA Regional Office. Ask your doctor to both document the diagnosis and to explain its impact on your ability to work.


STEP 4: GET EVIDENCE

To win an Agent Orange-based claim, you need (1) evidence of service in or near Vietnam, (2) a diagnosis of one of the recognized diseases, and (3) a date of manifestation within the particular deadline.

The VA may contact you for evidence or for permission to write to your doctor for your medical records. Your response to any VA request for evidence should be made only after consulting with your representative.

To understand what evidence the VA has collected, get a free copy of your VA claims file from the VA Regional Office. If you need to document your service in Vietnam, get a free set of your complete military personnel records from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis using a Standard Form 180, Request Pertaining to Military Records. This form is available from your representative or any VA office.


HOW MUCH MONEY

Compensation Rate Table
Basic Rates - 10%-100% Combined Degree Only
Effective 12/1/02


Rates (No Dependents): 10% - 20%

Without Children With Children
30% - 60%30% - 60%
70% - 100%70% - 100%
To find out how to use these rate tables CLICK HERE

10% - 20% (No Dependents)

Percentage Rate
10%$104
20%$201

30% - 60% Without Children

Dependent Status 30% 40% 50% 60%
Veteran Alone$310$445$633$801
Veteran with Spouse Only$347$495$695$876
Veteran with Spouse & One Parent$377$535$745$936
Veteran with Spouse and Two Parents$407$575$795$996
Veteran with One Parent$340$485$683$861
Veteran with Two Parents$370$525$733$921
Additional for A/A spouse (see footnote b)$34$44$56$67

70% - 100% Without Children

Dependent Status 70% 80% 90% 100%
Veteran Alone$1,008$1,171$1,317$2,193
Veteran with Spouse Only$1,095$1,271$1,429$2,318
Veteran with Spouse & One Parent$1,165$1,351$1,519$2,419
Veteran with Spouse and Two Parents$1,235$1,431$1,609$2,520
Veteran with One Parent$1,078$1,251$1,407$2,294
Veteran with Two Parents$1,148$1,331$1,497$2,395
Additional for A/A spouse (see footnote b)$78$89$101$112

30% - 60% With Children

Dependent Status 30% 40% 50% 60%
Veteran with Spouse & Child$374$531$740$930
Veteran with Child Only$335$479$675$852
Veteran with Spouse, One Parent and Child$404$571$790$990
Veteran with Spouse, Two Parents and Child$434$611$840$1,050
Veteran with One Parent and Child$365$519$725$912
Veteran with Two Parents and Child$395$559$775$972
Add for Each Additional Child Under Age 18 (see footnote c)$19$25$32$38
Each Additional Schoolchild Over Age 18 (see footnote a)$59$79$99$118
Additional for A/A spouse (see footnote b)$34$44$56$67

70% - 100% With Children

Dependent Status 70% 80% 90% 100%
Veteran with Spouse & Child$1,158$1,343$1,510$2,408
Veteran with Child Only$1,111$1,290$1,450$2,342
Veteran with Spouse, One Parent and Child$1,228$1,423$1,600$2,509
Veteran with Spouse, Two Parents and Child$1,298$1,503$1,690$2,610
Veteran with One Parent and Child$1,137$1,319$1,483$2,379
Veteran with Two Parents and Child$1,207$1,399$1,573$2,480
Add for Each Additional Child Under Age 18 (see footnote c)$44$51$57$64
Each Additional Schoolchild Over Age 18 (see footnote a)$138$158$178$198
Additional for A/A spouse (see footnote b)$78$89$101$112

FOOTNOTES:
  1. Rates for each school child are shown separately. They are not included with any other compensation rates. All other entries on this chart reflecting a rate for children show the rate payable for children under 18 or helpless. To find the amount payable to a 70% disabled veteran with a spouse and four children, one of whom is over 18 and attending school, take the 70% rate for a veteran with a spouse and 3 children, $ 1,246 , and add the rate for one school child, $138. The total amount payable is $1,384.

  2. Where the veteran has a spouse who is determined to require A/A, add the figure shown as "additional for A/A spouse" to the amount shown for the proper dependency code. For example, veteran has A/A spouse and 2 minor children and is 70% disabled. Add $78, additional for A/A spouse, to the rate for a 70% veteran with dependency code 12, $1,202. The total amount payable is $ 1,280.

  3. Rates are shown for one child. Add this amount for any additional under 18 or helpless child.

For information about our Compensation Benefit CLICK HERE.

 


STEP 5: PRESENT EVIDENCE

You do not help yourself if you simply dump a wad of loose records on the VA. Organize the records and explain their significance in a letter you and your representative prepare together.

You almost always want a hearing at the VA Regional Office if it denies your claim. The hearing will be before an official (the Hearing Officer) who was not involved in the earlier denial.


IF YOU LOSE: APPEAL

If the VA Regional Office says your disability is not service-connected or if the percentage of disability is lower than what you think is fair, you have the right to appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.

The first step in appealing is to send the VA Regional Office a “Notice of Disagreement.” This Notice is a letter saying that you “disagree” with the denial. Be sure to include in your letter the date of the VA’s denial letter and be sure to list the benefits you are still seeking.

Deadline: The Notice of Disagreement must be mailed to the VA Regional Office within one year of the denial of your claim or you cannot appeal. (You still can reopen your claim if you miss this deadline but you lose an earlier “effective date” for an award of back benefits.)

If you win, one issue which you should examine carefully with your representative is whether the VA has set the correct effective date for your award. Particularly, if you previously filed a claim that was denied, review with your representative the VA instructions contained in VBA Circular 21-94-1 (Feb. 15, 1994).


WORKING WITH YOUR REP

Keep in touch: You should talk to your representative at least once per month while your claim is pending. Whenever you get mail from the VA, call your representative to make sure s/he has gotten it and that you both understand it. If you move, let your rep know.

Ask questions: If you do not understand something about your case, ask about it. Don’t worry about asking a stupid question—your representative works for you and part of his or her job is making sure that you understand everything.

Be insistent: If something needs to be done, insist that it happen. Do not be talked out of anything unless you understand what is going on.


DISEASES CURRENTLY RECOGNIZED BY VA AS RELATED TO HERBICIDE EXPOSURE

The following diseases are those officially recognized by VA as related to herbicide exposure. To win benefits, VA law and regulations also require that some of these conditions appear (or “become manifest”) within a deadline that began to run the day you left Vietnam. If there is a deadline, it is listed in brackets after the name of the disease. If your condition is not listed below, ask your doctor whether what you have is similar to any of these. There may be room to argue that your condition is the same as one of these.

WARNING: This list may change. For more information, please refer to the
VA web site on Agent Orange (http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/benefits/Herbicide/AOno3.htm)

  • Prostate cancer
  • Peripheral neuropathy (acute and sub-acute)
  • Diabetes Type II
  • Spina Bifida in children of Vietnam Veterans
  • Chloracne [one year]
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, including any diagnosis of a lymphoma [except Hodgkin’s lymphoma], mycosis fungoides, and old terms such as lymphosarcoma, reticulum cell sarcoma and Kaposi's sarcoma
  • Porphyria cutanea tarda [one year]
  • Respiratory cancers, including cancer of the
    • lung
    • bronchus
    • larynx
    • trachea
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Hodgkin’s disease
  • Soft Tissue Sarcomas, including:
    • Adult fibrosarcoma
    • Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans
    • Malignant fibrous histiocytoma
    • Liposarcoma
    • Leiomyosarcoma
    • Epithelioid leiomyosarcoma (malignant leiomyoblastoma)
    • Rhabdomyosarcoma
    • Ectomesenchymoma
    • Angiosarcoma (hemangiosarcoma and lymphangiosarcoma)
    • Proliferating (systemic) angioendo- theliomatosis
    • Malignant glomus tumor
    • Malignant hemangiopericytoma
    • Synovial sarcoma (malignant synovioma)
    • Malignant giant cell tumor of tendon sheath
    • Malignant schwannoma, including malignant schwannoma with rhabdomyoblastic differentiation (malignant Triton tumor), glandular and epithelioid malignant schwannomas
    • Malignant mesenchymoma
    • Malignant granular cell tumor
    • Alveolar soft part sarcoma
    • Epithelioid sarcoma
    • Clear cell sarcoma of tendons and aponeuroses
    • Extraskeletal Ewing’s sarcoma
    • Congenital and infantile fibrosarcoma
    • Malignant ganglioneuroma
Under the VA rule, soft tissue sarcoma does not include osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma.

DIRECT SERVICE CONNECTION

Even if you did not serve in Vietnam or do not have one of the diseases listed on the previous page, you can still apply for service-connected benefits if you were exposed to an herbicide (or other toxic chemical such as benzene) while in the military which you believe caused your disease. In order to prove such a claim, you should submit medical articles and doctors’ statements to the VA linking the exposure to your disease.

VA MEDICAL SERVICES

In 1981 Congress authorized the VA to provide certain health-care services for disabilities which may have been caused by exposure to herbicides. The VA must accept a veteran’s statement that he or she was exposed and provide health care unless the VA can point to a cause for the problems other than Agent Orange. Veterans who qualify for treatment under this law do not have to pay for services received.

The health-care services authorized for veterans whose service in Vietnam can be verified include hospital care, nursing home care, and outpatient care in VA facilities on a pre- or post-hospitalization basis or to eliminate the need for hospitalization. These health-care services “will be provided without regard to the veteran’s age, service-connected status or the inability of the veteran to defray the expenses of such care.”

Under this law, health-care services may not be provided for conditions which resulted from a cause other than exposure to a herbicide. If an examination reveals a condition requiring treatment, the doctor is to determine if the condition resulted from a cause other than exposure to dioxin or other toxic substance in herbicides.

According to VA guidelines, the following types of conditions are not ordinarily considered to be due to such exposure:

  • congenital or developmental conditions;
  • conditions which are known to have preexisted military service;
  • conditions resulting from trauma;
  • conditions having a specific and well established etiology, e.g., tuberculosis, gout;
  • common conditions having a well recognized clinical course, e.g., inguinal hernia; acute appendicitis.
By specifying that the above conditions are not due to Agent Orange, the VA has apparently agreed to treat any Vietnam veterans with any other conditions. No decision that the condition is connected to service must be made. The allegation that the veteran was exposed to Agent Orange appears to be enough. Of course, veterans denied care based on Agent Orange exposure may be provided care if they are eligible under other laws.

Vietnam veterans have the same priority for receiving outpatient care as former POWs who are receiving care for nonservice-connected conditions. This priority places qualifying veterans exposed to Agent Orange ahead of other nonservice-connected veterans.

Separate from the VA Compensation and Pension exam, you can get an Agent Orange Registry exam which consists of four parts: an exposure history, a medical history, laboratory tests and a physical exam of those body systems most commonly affected by toxic chemicals. This exam might detect diseases which can be treated more effectively the earlier they are diagnosed.


SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS

The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers both disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. Veterans can receive both SS disability insurance benefits and VA disability compensation. There is an offset of the VA pension or compensation with SSI benefits.

Unlike VA compensation benefits that are measured in degrees of disability, SSA benefits require a total disability that will last at least one year. If you cannot work because of your disability, contact the nearest district office of SSA (800-772-1213).


INCARCERATED VETERANS

Even if you win VA benefits, you are not going to be paid all the money while you are in prison if you were convicted of a felony. Benefits withheld from you, however, can be “apportioned” to your family. If you cannot attend a VA examination, try to obtain a detailed medical report of an exam conducted by your facility’s doctor. Ask the doctor to use the criteria in the VA Physician’s Guide to Disability Evaluation Examinations and VA Rating Schedule in conducting the exam.

HELP FOR CHILDREN

Starting October 1, 1997, the VA will pay compensation and offer free medical care and vocational rehabilitation to Vietnam vets children with Spina Bifida.

The VA also offers assistance to children of veterans if the veterans have been rated at least 30 percent service-connected disabled. Such veterans receive a dependents’ allowance. Children of veterans considered permanently 100 percent disabled can also receive education assistance and health care through its CHAMPVA program.

Children with disabilities may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income benefits. One of the Agent Orange-funded programs offers a16-page booklet discussing children’s eligibility for SSI (“SSI: New Opportunities for Children with Disabilities”). Contact:

Mental Health Law Project
1101 15th St., NW,
Ste. 1212
Washington, DC 20005
The Agent Orange Program provided funding for a program for families with children with birth defects or other special health needs. The Center for Developmental Disabilities at the University of South Carolina offers a National Information Service which consists of telephone access to trained counselors, to provide information and referral services for parents of children with disabilities, including information and referrals concerning genetic counseling. Contact:
  • 1-800-922-9234, ext. 401
  • 1-800-922-1107, ext. 401 (in South Carolina)

THERE IS MORE YOU CAN DO

  • Educate yourself about issues facing Vietnam veterans and the nation; read some of the many good books that have been published recently.
  • Join VVA to keep current on developments; if you are not a Vietnam era veteran, membership is open as an “associate” member.
  • File a claim for VA disability compensation if you are disabled; encourage others to.
  • Volunteer your time and talents to the nearest Vet Center or veterans organization.
  • Work with groups of veterans to set up a meeting with the Director of the nearest VA Regional Office to review how it handles claims from Vietnam veterans.
  • Write your U.S. Representative (c/o House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515) and U.S. Senator (c/o U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510) or visit their local offices to urge them to support increased compensation now for Vietnam veterans.
  • Investigate what services are available from your state for veterans and how well those services are delivered.
  • Encourage civic organizations, unions, and business associations to which you belong to take a stand on veterans’ issues.

RESOURCES

The following publications are a few of the resources that may give you additional help with your claim:
  • Veterans Benefits Manual and Supplement—written for representative; details on filing, presenting claims for full range of VA benefits; offered by National Veterans Legal Services Program; to order, call 202-265-8305.
  • Title 38, Code of Federal Regulations—the official set of VA regulations; available from the Government Printing Office; to order, call 202-512-1800.
  • Veterans Appeals Reporter—contains decisions of Court of Veterans Appeals; published by West Publishing Co.; available at nearest VARO.

VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA

Vietnam Veterans of America® (VVA) is a non-profit, congressionally chartered veterans service organization dedicated to helping Vietnam-era veterans and their families obtain all the benefits and services to which they are entitled. VVA has accredited Service Representatives in most states who can provide representation at the VARO level. A list of the nearest VVA Service Representatives can be obtained by writing to:
VVA Veterans Benefits Program
8605 Cameron Street, Suite 400 Silver Spring, MD 20910-3710
Many other veterans organizations offer a wide range of services. Most states operate a department of veterans affairs and many states have a network of county veterans representatives. To locate accredited representatives, call or visit the nearest VARO.

LAWYERS

There are limits on when you can pay a lawyer to help you with a VA claim. Generally, you can hire a lawyer only after the BVA has decided your claim. Then you have only one year to hire a lawyer. Many lawyers work on a contingency basis that means you do not have to pay them a fee up front and if you do not win benefits, you will not have to pay a fee.

There are no limits on when someone else (a so-called third party) can use his or her own money to hire and pay a lawyer to represent you. This third party cannot be a family member who may benefit from your claim. If you use a third party to hire a lawyer, the lawyer can represent you at the beginning of a claim. Also, there are no limits on hiring a lawyer when the VA is coming after you because of a home loan guarantee debt.

Some private lawyers and some legal aid or legal services offices provide representation free of charge at all stages of a VA claim.

There is an organization of attorneys and nonattorneys who regularly practice before the Court of Veterans Appeals. Its members are available to represent you at the Court or, through a third party contract, before a VARO or the BVA. For a list of these members, contact:

Nat’l Organization of Veterans’ Advocates
PO Box 42334
Washington DC 20015

(800) 810-VETS

If no private practitioners are willing to represent you at the Court of Veterans Appeals, it might be possible to obtain pro bono representation through the Veterans Pro Bono Consortion. The Court will send you information about this opportunity. It is available only to a limited number of persons who meet income guidelines.

Copyright © 1997, Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. All Rights Reserved. ISBN 0-964-3980-3-6

Segments of this guide may be excerpted or reproduced for counseling, self-help, and scholarly purposes, but not for profit, without further permission; we request only that proper credit be given. Any other use requires written authorization of VVA, ATTN: Veterans Benefits Program, 8605 Cameron Street, Ste 400, Silver Spring, MD  20910. This guide one of a series that is being published by VVA under a contract with Keith D. Snyder of the Veterans Education Project.


                        Contact one of the Alabama Veterans Service Officers Listed

                                                                         or

E-mail our National office at veteransbenefits@vva.org