Experts have linked Agent Orange exposure to a wide range of chronic health conditions and illnesses experienced by America’s Veterans. These include lung conditions, skin issues, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, various cancers, and, yes, peripheral neuropathy.
However, peripheral neuropathy is also very common outside the military, leading many Veterans to wonder whether Agent Orange exposure is responsible for their condition.
Today, let’s break down the VA rating for peripheral neuropathy from Agent Orange exposure and explore what VA benefits you may receive based on your symptoms and their severity.
Peripheral neuropathy is a common condition that impacts Veterans. It is the result of damage to the nerves located outside of the brain and spinal cord.
Your body’s nerves carry electrochemical signals from the brain down the spinal cord and back. Your nerves stretch throughout your body and are responsible for the function of your nervous system, muscular control, and other major bodily functions.
If you develop peripheral neuropathy, your body’s peripheral nerves are negatively affected. Peripheral nerves are any nerves outside your brain and spinal cord, so they include the nerves reaching your arms, legs, feet, and so on. As a result, your peripheral nerves are essential for everyday movements.
There are over 100 types of peripheral neuropathy. Each type of peripheral neuropathy may have specific symptoms and difficulties. You can develop peripheral neuropathy in many different areas as well; for example, your peripheral neuropathy may only affect one major nerve, a group of nerves, or nerves throughout your entire body.
Symptoms can include extreme sensitivity to touch, tingling sensations, weakness, loss of balance, muscle cramps or weakness, numbness, and stabbing or burning pain.
In severe cases, it can limit the use of the impacted limb. As the limb is used less and less, the muscles can atrophy, further limiting the ability to move. In the most severe cases, peripheral neuropathy can result in the complete loss of use of the limb.
Because peripheral neuropathy can vary heavily in terms of severity and affected areas, some Veterans may need significant disability benefits while others do not. Veterans can receive benefits for peripheral neuropathy as a primary or secondary condition, the latter of which may be related to another service-connected injury or illness.
“Peripheral neuropathy” is a catch-all term for any damage to the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord. The VA will assign a rating based on the nerve that is impacted. Damage to the external popliteal nerve (in the leg) is rated as follows:
Meanwhile, damage to the sciatic nerve (in the leg) is rated as follows:
For the upper extremities, the VA rates the right arm and the left arm differently based on which side is dominant. If a Veteran is right-handed, their right arm is the “major” arm, and the left arm is the “minor” arm. For example, the median nerve (in the arm) is rated as follows:
The rating schedule provides little clarity on what constitutes “mild,” “moderate,” “moderately severe,” or “severe” incomplete paralysis. If a Veteran’s nerve damage is “wholly sensory,” that is to say, it does not cause paralysis or loss of use but does cause symptoms such as pain and numbness, the maximum severity a Veteran can receive is “moderate.”
There can be significant differences in the rating a Veteran is entitled to based on the nerve that is impacted. It is important to ensure that the VA evaluates a Veteran’s nerve damage based on the correct nerve, and can mean the difference between an 80 percent evaluation based on complete paralysis and a 40 percent evaluation for complete paralysis.
Veterans often have nerve damage to both upper and/or both lower extremities, for example nerve damage in both legs. It is important to ensure that the VA provides separate ratings for each limb, rather than rating them together. Similarly, one limb may be worse than the other, and it is important to have the VA rate them separately and individually.
Agent Orange is a herbicide and defoliant used in Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Guam, American Samoa, and along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in Korea. It was used as a tactical herbicide to clear leaves and vegetation for military operations. Agent Orange has numerous harmful chemicals, including high levels of dioxin. These chemicals have been documented to cause significant damage to those exposed to them.
Establishing entitlement to a presumption of exposure to Agent Orange is an important step in pursuing service connection. If a presumption applies, the Veteran does not have to prove they were exposed to Agent Orange.
The following Veterans are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange:
Veterans are also presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange if they served on or near the Korean DMZ from September 1, 1967 to August 31, 1971, if they served on active duty in a regular Air Force unit location where a C-123 aircraft with traces of Agent Orange was assigned and had repeated contact with this aircraft, if they were involved in transporting, storing, or other uses of Agent Orange during military service, or if they were a Reservist to certain flight, ground, or medical crews.
Several medical conditions are presumed to be related to Agent Orange. If one of these presumptions apply, the Veteran does not need to submit evidence to prove that their condition was caused by Agent Orange. Several cancers including bladder cancer, chronic B-cell leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, multiple myeloma, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, respiratory cancers, and some soft tissue sarcomas are presumed to be caused by Agent Orange.
Non-cancerous medical conditions presumed to be related to Agent Orange exposure include AL amyloidosis, chloracne, diabetes mellitus type 2, hypothyroidism, ischemic heart disease, parkinsonism, Parkinson’s disease, hypertension, and porphyria cutanea tarda. It is important to note that even if a presumption does not apply, a Veteran can still prove exposure to Agent Orange or that a condition is related to Agent Orange exposure with evidence.
Peripheral Neuropathy, like the conditions described above, is presumed to be related to Agent Orange. However, the presumption is limited to neuropathy that was at least 10 percent disabling within one year of herbicide exposure. As described above, 10 percent evaluations are generally provided for mild incomplete paralysis. Therefore, to be entitled to a presumption of service connection, a Veteran must show that they had symptoms of mild nerve damage, such as tingling in the extremities, numbness, and/or some pain within one year of herbicide exposure. The best evidence is medical records showing a diagnosis or reports of those symptoms in service or shortly after service, however few Veterans report such mild symptoms while in service. Competent lay statements describing these symptoms beginning during service or near service can be used to support entitlement to the presumption.
If a Veteran’s peripheral neuropathy began more than a year after their exposure to Agent Orange, the Veteran is not entitled to the presumption. However, a Veteran can still receive a service connection with the proper evidence. Medical research does support that Agent Orange can cause delayed onset peripheral neuropathy. It is important for a Veteran to provide sufficient medical research to convince a VA examiner, or to provide a positive nexus statement from a private doctor, to connect their neuropathy to their Agent Orange exposure.
Yes — provided you meet certain criteria.
Presumptive conditions are ones that don’t require you to gather additional evidence. Rather, with documented Agent Orange exposure and your medical diagnosis of peripheral neuropathy, you will automatically qualify for a presumptive service connection.
If a Veteran served in areas qualifying for presumptive exposure to Agent Orange, they may be eligible for presumptive service connection for their peripheral neuropathy. As described above, a Veteran must have developed early-onset peripheral neuropathy less than a year after leaving active duty.
Within that first year, the Veteran’s disability picture must reflect a 10% disability rating. (In other words, the Veteran must experience symptoms severe enough to warrant compensable disability benefits).
You can receive disability benefits. However, as with receiving disability benefits from presumptive peripheral neuropathy, you have to meet certain criteria. These criteria include:
Put more simply, you’ll need to link your service in the military and your peripheral neuropathy’s development in order to receive benefits. This allows Veterans who developed peripheral neuropathy from their military service but not from Agent Orange exposure to still receive disability benefits.
No matter your specific details, you’ll find the process much easier with knowledgeable Veterans law attorneys helping you step-by-step. The right attorneys can gather evidence on your behalf, contact medical professionals to get notes and official opinions and perform other services. They can also help you through the appeals process if your benefits claim is initially denied.
In addition to receiving primary benefits for peripheral neuropathy, Veterans can receive benefits for peripheral neuropathy as a secondary condition. Secondary service connections can be awarded if a Veteran has a service-connected disability that either causes or aggravates a non-service-connected disability.
Because of its nature, peripheral neuropathy is a very common secondary condition associated with chronic illnesses like diabetes mellitus type II. Furthermore, diabetes mellitus type II is a presumptive condition of Agent Orange exposure.
So, if you already have a service connection for your diabetes, and you start to experience exacerbated peripheral neuropathy symptoms, you could receive secondary service-connected benefits as a result.
Given the complexity of these claims, it’s important to speak to your medical care provider to get their professional opinion — and to speak to lawyers so you can determine your next steps.
Berry Law is America’s Veterans law firm, and your fire support team to fight the VA. If you applied for VA compensation for Parkinson’s and were denied or under-evaluated, we can help you appeal. With a team full of Veterans, we have the experience you need to get your claim approved. Contact Berry Law today to schedule a free case evaluation with a member of our team.
2022 Veterans Disability Compensation Rates | VA.gov
Peripheral Nerves Conditions | Benefits.va.gov
Presumptive Disability Benefits | U.S. Department of Veterans Affiars
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