Agent Orange is linked to the development of many types of cancer in Veterans. These cancers include bladder cancer, prostate cancer, and certain respiratory cancers. But what about one of the most common skin cancers, squamous cell carcinoma?
If you or a loved one have developed squamous cell carcinoma in the oral cavity and were exposed to Agent Orange, you could be eligible for disability benefits. Read on to learn more.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cell cancer. There are approximately 1.8 million cases of SCC each year, and the incidence of SCC has increased by 200% over the last 30 years.
Squamous cells are one of the three primary cell types located in the epidermis, the top layer of the skin. More specifically, squamous cells are very flat and located near the surface. They shed continuously while new ones form.
Squamous cell carcinoma occurs when several squamous cells become cancerous. As SCC develops, you may experience symptoms like:
While SCC can occur to anyone, you may have a higher likelihood of developing this disease if exposed to Agent Orange. If left unchecked, cancerous squamous cells can spread throughout the body. In time, this type of cancer can metastasize, leading to greater illness and potentially death.
Squamous cell carcinoma can affect the oral cavity, which includes all the areas in and around your mouth. Squamous cell carcinoma can affect your tongue, cheeks, lips, and other skin cells throughout your oral cavity.
Almost all cancers that affect the oral cavity and oropharynx are squamous cell carcinomas. They begin in the squamous cells and may eventually spread into different cell types.
Again, if squamous cell carcinoma in the oral cavity is left to grow, it can eventually metastasize or become much worse. Therefore, Veterans with SCC need to get medical treatment as soon as possible.
Agent Orange was an infamous herbicide the United States military used primarily throughout the 1960s and ‘70s. The US military used Agent Orange as a defoliating agent in the Vietnam War and surrounding combat environments. Over the last several decades, they also stored Agent Orange at various military bases.
Unfortunately, Agent Orange has been linked to many different diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, peripheral neuropathy, and various types of cancers, like prostate cancer and respiratory cancer.
At the time of writing, there is insufficient evidence to show that Agent Orange is directly linked to squamous cell carcinoma, particularly in oral cavities. However, the VA knows that Agent Orange can bleed into the environment and food chain in areas where the US deployed it. Therefore, Veterans may have eaten food that contained dioxin: the primary toxic component in Agent Orange. This may have increased their chances of developing squamous cell carcinoma.
Even though squamous cell carcinoma is not directly linked to Agent Orange, the VA has acknowledged that Agent Orange increases the likelihood of developing all types of cancers, not just those on the presumptive conditions list.
The presumptive conditions list is a VA-approved list of diseases and disabilities that are presumed to be caused or aggravated by Agent Orange if a Veteran was exposed to the herbicide at some point in their career.
For example, Parkinson’s disease is one of Agent Orange’s presumptive conditions. Suppose a Veteran served in an area where they could have feasibly been exposed to Agent Orange, and they developed Parkinson’s disease afterward. In that case, the VA assumes the herbicide caused or aggravated their disease. Because of this, the Veteran in question doesn’t have to receive service connection to be eligible for disability benefits.
SCC is not on the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list. However, you can still receive disability benefits from the VA for your squamous cell carcinoma. Indeed, the VA accepts disability benefits applications for any disease that could theoretically be connected to Agent Orange exposure (or other herbicides or chemicals). You simply have to meet a higher burden of proof to receive direct service connection or secondary service connection.
You can receive disability benefits for squamous cell carcinoma. However, you can’t automatically qualify for disability benefits like you could if your disease was on the presumptive conditions list.
You may apply for VA disability compensation and related benefits for your squamous cell carcinoma. To do that, you may need to:
Once you have gathered this information, you will file Form 21-526EZ. With this form, you’ll apply for VA disability benefits and then await a response. This may take several weeks or months.
The VA may have you attend a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam, at which point the VA will likely evaluate your SCC’s status and symptoms. Depending on the evaluation, you may receive a disability rating of 0% to 100%, and your disability compensation will depend on the disability rating you receive.
If your disability rating is too low, or if the VA does not award you disability benefits at all, you can appeal their decision with the assistance of your Veterans law attorneys.
Veterans law attorneys like Berry Law can assist in your appeal case, especially if you are looking to recover benefits for SCC in your mouth because of Agent Orange. Since SCC isn’t directly connected to Agent Orange exposure, you’ll have to provide sufficient evidence to convince the VA to provide you with service connection.
If you need to appeal a denial of benefits, increase your disability rating, or appeal your effective date, Berry Law can assist with gathering evidence and much more to substantiate your case.
For example, medical records and lay statements from fellow service members who were also exposed to the same chemicals or environments can go a long way toward showing that you only developed SCC after exposure to Agent Orange (and served in the military).
Furthermore, our experienced attorneys can negotiate with insurance companies or speak to the VA on your behalf. Suppose your SCC makes it difficult to speak, for example. In that case, our attorneys can be by your side throughout the process and handle most negotiations or discussions with your wishes at the forefront.
Was your claim initially denied, or did you receive a disability rating far too low, given the severity of your symptoms? In either case, our lawyers can help you through the VA appeals process. This involves filing another form and providing additional evidence to substantiate your benefits claim.
No matter the specifics of your case, Veterans law attorneys can provide you with peace of mind and confidence going forward. With our assistance, you won’t worry about not recovering disability benefits or not knowing what to do. Our lawyers will walk you through the process from start to finish and provide you with the sound legal counsel you need to succeed.
Even though squamous cell carcinoma in oral cavities isn’t on the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list, you may still qualify for disability benefits. With the assistance of knowledgeable Veterans law attorneys, your disability benefits appeal is much more likely to be successful.
Berry Law can help with your case in more ways than one, so we urge you to contact us immediately.
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