No Decision Yet From VA on New Agent Orange Presumptive Diseases

A U.S. Huey helicopter sprays Agent Orange over Vietnam. The U.S. military used at least 11 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam from 1961 to 1972. Wikimedia Commons
A U.S. Huey helicopter sprays Agent Orange over Vietnam. The U.S. military used at least 11 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam from 1961 to 1972. Wikimedia Commons

The VA has not announced any decision on whether it will provide disability compensation for four diseases linked to exposure to Agent Orange by a scientific panel, breaking a pledge to make a decision by late June.

Despite a promise in March from a Veterans Health Administration official that VA would decide within 90 days whether to add four health conditions -- bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension and Parkinson's like symptoms -- to a list of diseases presumed related to herbicide exposure, a VA spokesman said last week that none is forthcoming.

"We have no announcements on Agent Orange presumptive conditions at this time," a VA spokeswoman said Wednesday, three months after a hearing in which a VA official told a senator the decision was pending.

During a Senate Veterans Affairs hearing March 26, Dr. Richard Stone, the executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, said it was his "hope within the next 90 days that we'll have some decisions made."

In March 2016, the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academies of Sciences, found evidence that two conditions, bladder cancer and hypothyroidism, are likely linked to Agent Orange exposure and that a third, Parkinson-like symptoms, should be added to the list of diseases presumed to be related to contact with the herbicide.

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In November 2018, the organization, the National Academies, released a report finding sufficient evidence to link high blood pressure with exposure to Agent Orange. Hypertension previously had been designated as having limited or suggestive evidence that it could be related to contact with Agent Orange.

But high blood pressure is so common among older Americans that it has never been added to the presumptive list.

Having a diagnosis of a disease on the VA's presumptive list allows a veteran to bypass a requirement to prove that their illness is service-connected to receive disability compensation. Instead, they only need to prove that they served in an area where defoliants were used.

In late 2017, former VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin said he had decided whether to add several conditions to the presumptives list, and VA sent a recommendation to the Office of Management and Budget regarding the decision. But no further action was taken.

Responding to a question from Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, during the hearing, Stone said VA is working "through this right now," adding that the recommendation will go to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie for final approval.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @patriciakime.

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