VA Decision on Agent Orange Exposure and Bladder Cancer

VA Decision on Agent Orange Exposure and Bladder Cancer

Every few years, the VA adjusts its list of presumptive conditions and its catalog of potential service-based connections between exposure to dangerous chemicals and known health conditions.

Recently, the VA made one such adjustment regarding the link between Agent Orange exposure and the development of bladder cancer in Veterans. For many Veterans, this could significantly impact their disability benefits ratings and future benefits options.

Today, let’s break down the VA decision on Agent Orange exposure and bladder cancer. We’ll discuss how it may affect your disability benefits and what to do to ensure you receive the maximum benefits you deserve.

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021 was signed into law on January 1, 2021., With it came a new connection between bladder cancer and Agent Orange exposure. 

Evidence linking Agent Orange and bladder cancer has existed for some years. In fact, the passage of this 2021 Authorization Act is partly thanks to information published in the earlier Veterans and Agent Orange Update of 2014

In that update, the National Academy of Medicine research firmly linked bladder cancer to Agent Orange exposure.

Specifically, the 2014 update found that high levels of exposure to herbicide agents like Agent Orange were associated with a twice-higher-than-average likelihood of death from bladder cancer in affected Veterans. 

(The report also studied the potential connections and associations between Agent Orange exposure and conditions like hypertension, hypothyroidism, and Parkinson’s Disease symptoms.)

When Congress passed the recent 2021 NDAA, they added bladder cancer to the list of presumptive conditions that Agent Orange exposure assumedly causes. That means that Veterans who have bladder cancer and who were exposed to Agent Orange can now receive benefits without having to prove direct service connection.

This will make it much easier for many Veterans suffering from bladder cancer to get disability benefits. Previously, many Veterans were denied service connections for bladder cancer due to Agent Orange exposure.

Bladder Cancer Is Now a Presumptive Condition for Agent Orange Exposure

Since bladder cancer is now a presumptive condition for Veterans who experienced Agent Orange exposure, those Veterans can receive the disability benefits they need to cover their medical bills, their lack of income due to cancer symptoms, and other financial strains.

What Is a Presumptive Condition?

A presumptive condition is any health condition or symptom assumed to be caused or aggravated by one’s military service. For example, if a Veteran experiences hearing loss some years after leaving the military, that hearing loss is presumed to be caused or aggravated by their service-related exposure to loud noises like gunshots, aircraft engines, and more.

Normally, a Veteran must prove a direct link between their time in the military and their current symptoms to receive VA disability benefits. For example, Veterans typically need medical notes or other records showing a current diagnosis, an in-service injury or event, and a link between the two.

Presumptive conditions, however, don’t require Veterans to provide this evidence or otherwise prove a link. If a Veteran has a presumptive condition, it’s assumed that they received that condition during their military service. This usually means that Veterans will receive their disability benefits much more quickly and more easily than usual.

Since bladder cancer is now a presumptive condition for Agent Orange exposure, Veterans who served in the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and in similar theaters during certain timeframes may now be eligible to receive benefits they were previously denied.

VA Ratings for Bladder Cancer From Agent Orange Exposure

According to the VA’s rating system, bladder cancer is rated under Diagnostic Code 7528, otherwise known as malignant neoplasms of the genitourinary system.

According to this Diagnostic Code, any Veteran with bladder cancer will receive an automatic 100% disability rating for six months following the end of the surgery, antineoplastic chemotherapy, or any other therapeutic procedure.

Following the six-month timeframe, the VA must then schedule a follow-up Compensation and Pension examination. This will determine how severe the bladder cancer is, whether the therapies worked and whether the Veteran’s disability rating should decrease.

So long as a Veteran’s bladder cancer is still active or the Veteran is still undergoing treatment for the bladder cancer, they will continue to receive a 100% disability rating.

Six months after treatments are over or if the cancer is no longer active, the Veteran will see their disability rating fall below 100%.

At this point, the VA rates bladder cancer depending on the remaining symptoms or residuals. Veterans can still acquire disability benefits for bladder cancer residuals like:

  • Ongoing pain. If the pain is especially severe or debilitating, the Veteran may receive a higher disability rating. 
  • Voiding dysfunction. Voiding dysfunction includes residual symptoms and conditions like urinary leakage, obstructive voiding, and more. These conditions could receive disability ratings ranging from 0% to 60%, depending on symptom severity.
  • Erectile dysfunction. This is a common potential secondary condition to bladder cancer. Any Veterans who develop or experience erectile dysfunction because of service-connected bladder cancer could qualify for special monthly compensation.
  • Renal dysfunction. This is poor functioning of the kidneys, which could occur due to lower blood flow after or during bladder cancer. The VA may raise renal dysfunction between 0% to 100%, depending on the condition’s severity. A Veteran who needs regular dialysis, for instance, may receive a 100% disability rating.

Filing a VA Disability Benefits Claim for Bladder Cancer

While the recent VA decision on Agent Orange exposure connected to bladder cancer is good news for most Veterans, it’s still wise to know how to file an effective VA disability claim for the condition.

To file a claim for bladder cancer, a Veteran has to submit a legitimate diagnosis of bladder cancer. The diagnosis can come from any licensed medical professional who is qualified to diagnose this condition.

However, it’s also a good idea to provide records or evidence that shows the Veteran was exposed to Agent Orange during their active duty. Veterans who served in the below areas and in the below time frames may qualify for a presumptive service connection.

  • Veterans who served in Vietnam with “boots on the ground” status, Navy Veterans who operated on a ship in the inland waterways in Vietnam, or Navy Veterans who served aboard a ship in the territorial seas of Vietnam between the dates of January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975.
  • Veterans who served on or around the Korean Demilitarized Zone between the dates of September 1, 1967, and August 31, 1971.
  • Active duty and/or reservist personnel who regularly served on or around C-123 aircraft between 1969 and 1986.
  • Veterans who performed in Thailand at any United States or Royal Thai base between the dates of January 9, 1962, and June 30, 1976.
  • Veterans who served in Laos between the dates of December 1, 1965, and September 30, 1969
  • Veterans who served in Cambodia at Mimot or Krek, Kampong Cham Province between the dates of April 16, 1969, and April 30, 1969
  • Veterans who served on Guam or American Samoa, in the territorial waters thereof, between the dates of January 9, 1962, and July 31, 1980.
  • Veterans who served on Johnston Atoll or on a ship that called at Johnston Atoll between the dates of January 1, 1972, and September 30, 1977.

To file your claim, you must submit VA Form 21-526EZ. This form will include a section where a Veteran can list Agent Orange as the chemical they were exposed to during their active service.

If you believe that you qualify for a presumptive connection between your bladder cancer and Agent Orange exposure, it’s a good idea to contact knowledgeable Veterans law attorneys

The right attorneys can help you gather evidence, file your claim successfully, and support you through the appeals process if necessary.

What If You Didn’t Serve in the Qualifying Areas or Times?

If you did not serve in the Republic of Vietnam, the Korean DMZ, other areas mentioned above, or in an aircraft that was responsible for transporting and/or spraying Agent Orange, you may still be able to demonstrate that you were exposed to this chemical and receive benefits as a result.

If you have detailed military records, determine where and when you served and work with your attorneys to try to show a service connection between the start date of your symptoms and potential Agent Orange exposure sites. 

If you have bladder cancer and are able to show that you were “at least as likely as not” exposed to Agent Orange, your bladder cancer may be automatically presumed to be related to that exposure by the VA. 

Effective Dates and Bladder Cancer Service Connections

If you receive a service connection for bladder cancer based on your previous exposure to Agent Orange by the VA, certain rules may apply to give you an earlier effective date for your award. If this occurs, the VA will deem that you should have received benefits much earlier, resulting in a lump sum of retroactive pay with your first disability benefits check.

The “effective date” for any award of service connection is the date on which you file a disability benefits claim with the VA in most cases. If you file a benefits claim and it is denied — and if you don’t appeal it within one year and later file a claim to reopen the case — your effective date will be the day you requested to reopen your claim, not the start date of the initially denied claim.

However, several Vietnam-era Veterans have filed claims decades ago that were denied yet never appealed. Because of a special court order that benefits Vietnam-era Veterans, said Veterans will be granted effective dates much earlier than the general rule described above.

For example, imagine that you filed a claim for your bladder cancer in 1989 and it was initially denied. However, you are later granted bladder cancer disability benefits based on exposure to Agent Orange. In this case, your effective date for benefits could logically be the date when you initially filed your first claim for bladder cancer symptoms in 1989.

Naturally, this issue can be quite complicated, which is just another reason why knowledgeable Veterans law attorneys can help you understand your options and maximize your potential benefits.

Contact Veterans Law Attorneys Today

The VA’s decision on Agent Orange exposure and bladder cancer should help thousands of Veterans get the disability benefits they need to pay for medical bills, cover lost income from being unable to work, and more. 

However, even if you may benefit from this decision, you’ll need to file a new benefits claim or appeal to the VA for an increased disability rating.

Berry Law can help with that and much more. As fully licensed and experienced Veterans law attorneys, we can help you file a successful benefits claim, gather evidence proving you were exposed to Agent Orange, and prove that your bladder cancer symptoms should count as presumptive for benefits purposes.

There’s no reason to go through this process alone. Contact Berry Law today for a free case evaluation and consultation.


116th Congress (2019-2020): William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 | Congress 

Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2014 | National Academies 

Presumptive Disability Benefits | U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

VA Form 21-526EZ | U.S. Department of 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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