The VA recently expanded its list of presumptive conditions from Agent Orange exposure. Specifically, the VA added both high blood pressure (hypertension) and monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) to its presumptive conditions. This means that Veterans with either of these conditions who also served in the Vietnam War and related stations may qualify for disability benefits.
That’s welcome news for affected Veterans. If you aren’t sure whether you qualify or what exactly the recent VA decision means, we’ll take a closer look at the VA decision on hypertension and Agent Orange now.
Hypertension is a medical condition that can affect your body’s arteries. When you have high blood pressure, the internal force or pressure of blood pushing against your arteries’ walls is too high for your health and safety. Your heart also has to work much harder to pump blood throughout your body.
All blood pressure is measured using millimeters of mercury or mm Hg. Hypertension or high blood pressure is diagnosed in most people if they have a blood pressure rating of 130/80 mm Hg or higher.
Blood pressure can be broadly divided into four major categories:
Hypertension can be dangerous and even deadly if left untreated. Many Veterans have to pay regularly for medical attention or medication to manage their hypertension, as well as undertake lifestyle changes in order to accommodate its symptoms.
Agent Orange was a tactical herbicide primarily deployed between the years of 1962 and 1971, largely during the Vietnam War. After the war, the military discontinued its use of Agent Orange, although the chemical was still stored at various US military bases both inside and outside the US.
Although Agent Orange was effective as an herbicide, it was also a toxic chemical because of its high concentration of dioxin, a known carcinogen. Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange (knowingly or otherwise) soon developed health complications and long-term illnesses that have been scientifically linked to Agent Orange.
At the time of writing, the precise medical reason why dioxin causes high blood pressure is not understood. However, many scientists theorize that it’s because dioxin binds with specific types of cellular receptors found in most major blood cells.
When this occurs, the body’s arteries do not properly respond to signals to decrease blood pressure, leading to the development of hypertension over time.
As a result of growing medical conditions and complications among Vietnam War Veterans, Congress passed legislation requiring the maintenance of a presumptive condition list for Agent Orange exposure.
Veterans who demonstrate one or more presumptive conditions and who served in or around the Vietnam War automatically qualify for disability benefits. That’s because the VA presumes that those conditions were caused or aggravated by Agent Orange exposure, even if they may theoretically have another cause.
Only certain Veterans are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange, including:
Furthermore, Veterans who were stationed at various US bases that stored Agent Orange may qualify for presumptive disability benefits.
For a many years, hypertension was not on the list of presumptive conditions. Other conditions, including Hodgkin’s disease, ischemic heart disease, and diabetes mellitus type 2 are presumptive conditions.
Because of the Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022, the VA has decided to include hypertension as a presumptive condition for all Vietnam-era Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange.
As a result of the PACT Act, Veterans with hypertension who served in Vietnam or who meet other presumptive condition requirements may qualify for disability benefits, even if they did not before.
For instance, if you served in the Vietnam War and developed hypertension, you could not recover disability benefits automatically (though you might still be able to with sufficient evidence). Now, if your claim was denied, you can reapply for benefits and potentially get them with the assistance of experienced Veterans law attorneys.
Furthermore, even if you have been receiving disability benefits from the VA, you could receive retroactive compensation for the months or years during which you should have received benefits because of your hypertension.
Note that you must apply for retroactive and general benefits individually. The VA will not provide you with benefits automatically, even if you already have been diagnosed with hypertension.
Again, Veterans law attorneys can help you through this process and help you draft an effective appeals claim to receive benefits or increase your disability benefits rating.
While the VA’s decision on hypertension and Agent Orange exposure is very beneficial, it’s important to remember that the VA does not recognize hypertension in the exact same way as many other medical organizations.
For instance, the CDC accepts the standard definition of hypertension: a systolic blood pressure of more than 130 mm Hg and a diastolic blood pressure of more than 80 mm Hg. Odds are that any doctor you see will also accept this definition because it is the medical industry standard.
The VA disability process, on the other hand, recognizes hypertension only if you meet one of the below requirements:
These definitions are a little different from the ones accepted at many other medical institutions. Therefore, if your blood pressure doesn’t fit the VA’s definition, you may have a little more difficulty getting the disability benefits you deserve.
You could still qualify for a hypertension diagnosis from the VA if you are already taking prescribed medication for high blood pressure. For instance, if you’ve been taking care of your high blood pressure symptoms yourself and working with a doctor to manage the condition, you can use this as evidence that you have medically recognized hypertension and deserve compensation from the VA.
Furthermore, you can use the statements of your doctor to draft a nexus letter. A nexus letter provides evidence that you both have a disabling or chronic condition and that the condition was caused because of your military service.
If you have evidence that you served around or with Agent Orange in the past due to your service record, and you provide the VA with a nexus letter from your primary care physician stating that you have high blood pressure, you should have enough evidence to qualify for disability benefits across the board.
Additional evidence, such as lay statements from your friends and family members, may also be beneficial. It’s a good idea to contact Veterans law attorneys at the earliest opportunity.
Many Veterans law attorneys have been following the PACT Act development carefully, so they know about the recent decision regarding hypertension and Vietnam War Veterans. As a result, they’re well-equipped and ready to assist with your claim and can ensure that it is as strong as possible to maximize your potential benefits.
Thanks to the PACT Act, any Vietnam Veterans who developed hypertension during or after their military service could qualify for disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. If you believe you qualify, you should start the process of filing your benefits claim as soon as possible.
That’ll be much easier with the right Veterans law attorneys on your side. At Berry Law, our lawyers will work with you from start to finish, ensuring that you file the right paperwork and gather the right evidence to make your claim as strong as possible.
Contact us today to learn how we can assist further.
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