Many Vietnam Veterans still feel the effects of combat today. Among those effects are disorders and health conditions caused by exposure to the notorious chemical Agent Orange — a US military herbicide now known to contain toxins.
One disease that Agent Orange can cause is hypothyroidism. Below, we’ll cover what you need to know about hypothyroidism and how you can receive VA benefits for it.
It’s easy to confuse hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Though they are similar and both occur in the thyroid gland, there are some important differences.
Hypothyroidism is when a person’s thyroid gland does not keep the hormone levels of their body as high as it should be. The VA diagnostic code for hypothyroidism is 7903.
On the other hand, hyperthyroidism is when a person’s thyroid gland overproduces hormones in the person’s body. The VA diagnostic code for hyperthyroidism is 7900.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism tend to occur slowly over time. Many Veterans may not even realize that they are experiencing symptoms of hypothyroidism because some of them are not very noticeable at first.
Unfortunately, untreated hypothyroidism can cause numerous health issues over time, including obesity, nerve damage, joint pain, goiters, infertility, and heart disease.
It is good to be aware of the symptoms of hypothyroidism so that you can notice any changes in your body and seek medical care when necessary. Here are some common symptoms of hypothyroidism:
Since some of these symptoms are similar to the ordinary effects of old age, Vietnam Veterans may overlook them and not know they’re experiencing hypothyroidism. Veterans should always see a doctor if they are experiencing these symptoms suddenly or find themselves with unusually low energy levels.
Agent Orange is a chemical that the US military used during the Vietnam War to clear forests and other natural debris.
One of the most controversial aspects of Agent Orange is that it contained dioxin, a chemical that we now know caused many health problems in both Veterans and civilians.
The production of Agent Orange ceased in the 1970s because of its harmful side effects. Consequently, the US military no longer uses it — but its effect on Veterans may linger.
The process for making a claim related to Agent Orange is a little different from making a claim for another kind of service-related disability.
Typically, when a Veteran makes a claim through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, they will have to provide three pieces of evidence:
These three components are typically necessary for the VA to award a service connection. However, that’s not the case with Agent Orange-related health conditions.
The VA presumes Agent Orange exposure when a Veteran shows that they served during the Vietnam War. The VA also offers a list of disabilities related to Agent Orange exposure in order to make the claims process easier.
There are some requirements for Veterans to qualify for a presumptive condition due to Agent Orange exposure. Veterans must have served either:
If a Veteran does not fall into one of these three categories, it may be more difficult for them to have their claim approved.
Yes. There are many Agent Orange presumptive diseases and conditions that may qualify you for Veterans benefits, including:
Until recently, hypothyroidism was not on the list. However, as of January 2021, the VA added three new presumptive conditions to their list for Agent Orange exposure: hypothyroidism, bladder cancer, and Parkinson’s disease.
This is great news for Veterans who served in Vietnam and now suffer from hypothyroidism or other medical conditions after being exposed to Agent Orange.
Since hypothyroidism is now included in the VA’s presumptive list, Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans and others who served in Vietnam may all have eligibility for benefits from this health condition.
This also means that the VA will go back and review the claims they denied before they began recognizing hypothyroidism as a presumptive disability in January 2021. In these cases, the Veteran will not have to go back and make another claim regarding their hypothyroidism. Thankfully, the VA will automatically conduct the review and inform the Veteran.
VA ratings differ from disability to disability. Usually, the VA determines a disability rating by the severity of a Veteran’s symptoms.
If symptoms are relatively minimal and do not interfere with the Veteran’s life, then the VA may approve a claim but give a low disability rating, resulting in little or no benefits.
However, if the symptoms are severe and the Veteran’s claim proves it, then the VA will give a higher rating, resulting in more benefits.
Veterans are sometimes able to receive benefits for a secondary condition on top of the benefits that they receive for their primary condition. Secondary conditions are not directly linked to a Veteran’s military service but rather are caused or aggravated by a service-connected disability.
Crucially, Veterans can receive benefits for hypothyroidism as a secondary condition. This will increase a Veteran’s disability rating, giving them more benefits than they already receive.
When making a claim to connect a secondary condition to a primary service-connected disability, a Veteran should work with an attorney that is familiar with the VA claims process, such as Berry Law.
An experienced attorney will make sure that the Veteran has all the necessary evidence to make a substantial claim, including medical reports of the secondary condition with the exact wording that the VA looks for.
All too often, Veterans have to file an appeal regarding a VA decision. A Veteran can appeal any decision, but they usually do so because the VA rating is too low, making their benefits less than what they should be, or because the VA outright denied their claim.
If you do not agree with the VA’s decision regarding your claim, then you should act promptly. Veterans have one year from the time of the VA’s decision to appeal before they have to start the whole claims process all over again.
There are three ways that a Veteran can appeal a VA decision:
Since the appeals process can be more difficult than the initial claims process, a Veteran should work with an attorney that is familiar with the VA. A knowledgeable attorney can guide you to the best appeals process for your claim and help you receive the benefits you deserve.
Agent Orange continues to affect numerous Veteran’s lives. Veterans who suffer from various disabilities or diseases related to Agent Orange exposure should seek out the VA disability benefits that they deserve.
This includes Veterans who suffer from hypothyroidism, which can be marked by tiredness, sluggishness, weight gain, and depression.
As of January 2021, the VA now recognizes hypothyroidism as a presumptive disability related to Agent Orange exposure. That means that Veterans can be more confident in getting the benefits that they deserve when they file a claim for their hypothyroidism.
For more information regarding VA benefits, disability claims, and disability ratings, visit the Berry Law Firm website.
What is Agent Orange? | The Aspen Institute
Agent Orange Exposure and VA Disability Compensation | VA.gov
Our monthly newsletter features about important and up-to-date veterans' law news, keeping you informed about the changes that matter.