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The Link Between Agent Orange & Neurological Disorders

The Link Between Agent Orange & Neurological Disorders

Many Veterans live with neurological disorders and the daily medical challenges that come with them. While some Veterans developed these disorders independently, others only developed neurological diseases because of exposure to Agent Orange: one of the most infamous tactical herbicides used by the US military.

Many medical studies have proven the link between Agent Orange and neurological disorders. Read on to discover more about this link and how to apply for disability benefits if you were exposed to Agent Orange during your military service.

What Is Agent Orange?

Agent Orange is a tactical herbicide used in the Vietnam War and related military conflicts. The US broadly used it between 1961 and 1971, and many Veterans were exposed to the chemical and its harmful effects. Outside of that time period, some Veterans may have been exposed to Agent Orange on military bases.

Many Veterans exposed to Agent Orange developed numerous health conditions, including cancers and other diseases. Over time, it became clear that exposure to Agent Orange was a key factor in developing those diseases.

As a result, the VA instituted a presumptive condition list for all diseases provably linked to Agent Orange exposure. Now, Veterans with one of those diseases or conditions who were exposed to Agent Orange do not need to prove a service connection to receive disability benefits.

Can Agent Orange Cause Neurological Disorders?

Agent Orange includes the toxic chemical dioxin, a byproduct of industrial processes like herbicide and pesticide production. Dioxin is a persistent, harmful organic pollutant that can stay in the environment for several years and even accumulate in the food chain.

Medical journals have proven that dioxin is linked to many health problems, including nervous system damage. Dioxin harms the nerves by interfering with their normal functionality, specifically causing damage to the myelin sheath. When this occurs, nervous system signals are disrupted, and the nerves may become inflamed or suffer from oxidative stress.

Given enough time, this disruption can cause those exposed to Agent Orange to develop or aggravate nervous system disorders.

What Neurological Disorders are Associated with Agent Orange?

Several studies have shown that serious neurological disorders are associated with exposure to Agent Orange. Here’s a breakdown of some of those illnesses.

Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy is a disorder that affects the peripheral nervous system, including any nerves outside the brain and spinal cord. Peripheral neuropathy’s symptoms can vary depending on which nerves are affected. However, the most common symptoms include:

  • Tingling sensations
  • Burning in the hands and feet
  • Numbness of the extremities
  • Muscle weakness and difficulty with coordination

Depending on how long a Veteran was exposed to Agent Orange, symptom severity can be mild to severe. In the worst cases, Veterans may discover that they cannot perform everyday tasks because of their disease. 

The best treatments for peripheral neuropathy include medications, which help to manage pain and related symptoms, as well as physical therapy. Sometimes, Veterans must undergo lifestyle changes for the betterment of themselves and their families.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder. Its most common symptoms include difficulty with movement, difficulty controlling one’s muscles, tremors, and stiffness.

Dioxin is thought to cause or aggravate Parkinson’s disease in those exposed to Agent Orange, though the exact mechanisms by which this occurs are not fully understood. Dioxin may damage cells in the brain that make dopamine, a key neurotransmitter that is heavily involved in movement control. When dopamine-producing cells degenerate, it may cause or aggravate the above symptoms.

Furthermore, exposure to dioxin could cause or aggravate inflammation and oxidative stress, contributing to one’s risk of Parkinson’s disease. 

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is another potential neurological disorder linked to Agent Orange. This progressive neurodegenerative disease affects the nerve cells found in the spinal cord and brain. The most common symptoms include:

  • Loss of muscle control and movement
  • Paralysis
  • Respiratory failure

Unfortunately, ALS is a progressive and incurable disease, killing those who have it sooner or later. Exposure to dioxin may damage neurons in the spinal cord and brain, which can eventually lead to the symptoms of ALS. This may also lead abnormal proteins to accumulate, further exacerbating neurological damage and accelerating disease progression.

Many studies have shown that Veterans exposed to Agent Orange have a higher risk of developing ALS symptoms than other Veterans.

Acquiring Disability Compensation for a Service-Connected Neurological Disorder

Veterans with disabilities or injuries may acquire disability compensation and other VA benefits by receiving a service connection. Service connection is an acknowledgment from the VA that your illness, injury, or disability was directly caused or aggravated by an in-service illness, event, or injury. In other words, it was caused or aggravated by your military service.

However, Veterans with Parkinson’s disease or peripheral neuropathy will find that both neurological conditions are on the VA presumptive conditions list for Agent Orange exposure. This means that the bar for proving service connection is lower. These Veterans only need to show that they were in an area where Agent Orange is conceded to be or that they were directly exposed to Agent Orange.

This means that if you were plausibly exposed to Agent Orange and developed either of these conditions (or any other conditions on the presumptive conditions list), the VA assumes you developed those disabilities because of Agent Orange exposure. That makes acquiring disability benefits much simpler and more streamlined.

To acquire disability benefits for these disorders:

  • File Form 21-526EZ, which is necessary to recover any disability compensation from the VA regardless of symptoms or your disability
  • Wait for a response

Depending on the VA’s current case backlog, you may need to wait several weeks or even several months before you learn whether the VA has awarded you a disability rating and compensation.

Suppose you’re working with trustworthy Veterans law attorneys and the VA assigns you a low disability rating or denies you compensation benefits. In that case, you can work with those attorneys to overturn that initial decision through the appeals process.

What Happens If Your Disorder Isn’t on the Presumptive Conditions List?

You’ll notice that ALS is not on the presumptive conditions list for Agent Orange exposure. At the time of this writing, the VA has not acknowledged that ALS is more likely to be caused or aggravated by Agent Orange and dioxin exposure, despite evidence to the contrary.

However, Veterans with ALS can still recover disability benefits and other compensation from the VA. But they must receive service connection to do so.

Generally, this involves gathering enough evidence to prove that one’s symptoms or disease did not start until after some in-service event or injury. To gather this evidence, you’ll need to provide:

  • Copies of your service records, which can prove that you served in an area where Agent Orange was used or leaked into the environment
  • A current medical diagnosis of your ALS or other neurological disorder
  • A nexus letter from a licensed medical professional. The nexus letter acts as a professional opinion stating that, in the opinion of the physician or doctor, your neurological disorder was caused or aggravated by your military service
  • Lay statements from your friends and family members, your coworkers, and fellow servicemembers. This can act as supplementary evidence to prove that what you say is true

Once you provide this information, the VA may require you to sit for a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam. Your symptoms will be examined and diagnosed by a VA-appointed physician. After that, you may receive a disability rating and associated compensation.

Contact Berry Law Today

Veterans law attorneys like Berry Law can help you acquire the disability benefits you deserve for your military service, even if the VA denied your initial claim. If you or a loved one served in the US military and were exposed to Agent Orange, then developed a neurological disorder, you could be eligible for a service connection.

With our assistance, you can receive the maximum disability benefits possible and be able to take advantage of the full range of VA benefits to assist with your condition. Contact us today to learn more. 

Sources

Neurologic Disorders – Veterans and Agent Orange | NCBI Bookshelf

Agent Orange Exposure And VA Disability Compensation | Veterans Affairs

Agent Orange Exposure And VA Disability Compensation | Veterans Affairs

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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