Disabled Vietnam veterans with Parkinson's disease, B cell leukemia or coronary artery disease (heart disease) are waiting for an official ruling from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that will possibly pay them veterans disability benefits that are long overdue. Forty years after Agent Orange was last used in Vietnam, the VA and Defense Department have finally identified it as the cause of presumptive illness in many disabled Vietnam vets. (The VA currently provides a list of diseases related to Agent Orange exposure.)

It's important that Vietnam vets understand the meaning behind "presumptive illness." Veterans with the presumptive ailments caused by Agent Orange toxins will qualify for disability compensation if they are able to show that they visited Vietnam at any time from 1962 to 1975. A presumptive illness doesn't require a Vietnam vet to prove a direct association between their medical condition and military service. And so these new claims don't contribute to the already existing backlog of applicants, the VA intends to accept letters from a vet's family physicians supporting claims for Agent Orange-related conditions.

The DVA estimates that approximately 185,000 Vietnam veterans could become eligible for disability benefits after the rule change takes place. (The new ruling is expected to pass sometime in 2010.) The estimated cost for the VA in ensuring that Vietnam veterans receive their disability payments could reach $50 billion. There will also be an effort to fully compensate the widows of Vietnam veterans who died of Agent Orange disabilities. Surviving spouses will be eligible for retroactive benefits and VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.

This is a well-deserved victory for the many thousands of Vietnam vets who were previously denied their disability claim. It's also a critical announcement to the thousands of vets who never even filed their claim, but will likely be eligible for benefits. The numbers are expected to be particularly large with regard to the number of Vietnam veterans who file a disability claim due to heart disease.

Vietnam veterans will not be eligible for disability compensation if evidence is found that any of the three diseases are a result of a non-service cause.

James R. Keller
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