VA Disability Benefits for Agent Orange Exposure

Many veterans who served in Vietnam and the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in the 1960s and 1970s suffer from cancer and other health problems. Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) presumes that those diseases arose from their exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides. The VA makes the same presumption for veterans who came into contact with the herbicide outside of Vietnam during that era.

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Unfortunately, the VA fails to pay the proper amount of benefits to many of these veterans. The VA makes mistakes such as:

  • Giving veterans a low disability rating which fails to reflect the severity of the veteran’s current illness. Many Agent Orange-related diseases are degenerative. If the VA has not updated a Vietnam veteran’s disability rating, it may be too low.
  • Determining an incorrect effective date for disability benefits, which decreases the amount of back pay that a veteran receives. It took many years for the VA to recognize the need to award disability benefits due to Agent Orange exposure. As a result, many Vietnam veterans have incorrect effective dates.

Berry Law Firm works with veterans nationwide who do not receive proper Agent Orange-related disability benefits. We help them to appeal and reopen claims in order to raise their VA disability ratings and increase their monthly benefit. Our office is located at 6940 O St, Suite 400 Lincoln NE 68510.

Who Is Eligible for Agent Orange-Related VA Disability Benefits?

The U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides over the jungles of Vietnam and around the Korean DMZ. Soon, a pattern of illness and death emerged among the young men who returned from service in Southeast Asia. The VA came under pressure to acknowledge the government’s responsibility for these veterans’ health problems and to provide compensation for them.

Today, the VA presumes Agent Orange exposure among veterans who:

  • Served in Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, including brief visits ashore or service aboard ships that operated on Vietnam’s inland waterways.
  • Served in or near the Korean DMZ between April 1, 1968, and August 31, 1971.
  • Served as members of the Air Force or Air Force Reserve from 1969 through 1986 and regularly and repeatedly operated, maintained or served on board C-123 aircraft, which sprayed Agent Orange over Vietnam.

Many other Vietnam Era veterans who suffer illness and can demonstrate exposure to Agent Orange may obtain disability benefits. These are veterans who:

  • Served on or near the perimeters of U.S. military bases in Thailand during the Vietnam Era.
  • Served on open-sea ships off the shore of Vietnam during the Vietnam War (Blue Water Veterans).
  • Served where the military tested and stored herbicides outside of Vietnam.
  • Were associated with Department of Defense (DoD) projects to test, dispose of or store herbicides in the United States.

What Diseases Are Presumptive for Agent Orange Exposure?

The VA presumes that certain cancers and other health problems are connected to a veteran’s exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service in Vietnam, the Korean DMZ or on board C-123s after the Vietnam War.

Veterans who have any of the following diseases may be eligible for benefits:

Conditions recently added in January 2021

The VA bases the amount of money that a veteran receives each month in disability benefits on the veteran’s disability rating. The rating reflects the veteran’s service-connected disability, or it is a combined rating of multiple disabilities. The medical documents that a veteran submits, and the way a VA claims evaluator interprets those documents, determines the rating that a veteran receives.

If you seek VA disability benefits based on your Agent Orange exposure, or if you want an increase in your disability rating because your condition has grown worse, your current medical records must support your claim.

Raising Your VA Disability Rating in an Agent Orange Claim

If you ask the VA to conduct a new evaluation of your disability rating, the VA requires you provide evidence that your medical condition has grown worse and increased your disability. A record from a recent medical exam by your private doctor or a VA doctor will likely suffice.

After the VA receives your request for a new disability rating, the VA can ask you to undergo another medical exam at a local VA medical center. This is called a Compensation and Pension Examination, or “C&P exam.”

A VA claims evaluator will analyze your request for a higher disability rating. The evaluator will use the VA diagnostic codes for the specific condition(s) you cite and determine your disability rating. The VA assigns ratings in 10% increments, from 0% to 100%.

The diagnostic codes focus on how much an illness limits a veteran’s ability to obtain or maintain substantial employment and perform daily life activities. For mental disorders, the codes also focus on how a veteran establishes and maintains appropriate interpersonal relationships.

If you do not have any significant changes in your condition, the VA will not award you a higher disability rating. For example, if you suffer from additional pain alone, your rating will not likely increase. However, if you report that you now require supplemental oxygen to function, your rating is likely to increase.

Is Your Disability ‘Effective Date’ Correct for an Agent Orange Claim?

The “effective date” for VA disability compensation is usually the date when the VA first receives a claim that the agency eventually approves. However, the VA sets special rules for Agent Orange effective dates.

The “Nehmer effective dates” for Agent Orange benefits are related to a class action lawsuit. These dates apply to veterans who served on the landmass of Vietnam or its inland waterways.

Under the Nehmer rule, the effective date for an Agent Orange claim is whichever is the later:

For a claim filed between September 25, 1985, and May 3, 1989:

  • The date the VA received the claim on which the prior denial was based, or
  • The date the disability arose.

For a claim pending before the VA on May 3, 1989, or received by the VA between that date and the effective date of the presumption of service connection for the covered disease:

  • The date the VA received the claim, or
  • The date the disability arose.

If the VA received an eligible veteran’s claim within one year from the date of separation from service, the effective date of the award should be the day following separation from service. For older Vietnam veterans, this rule is an important one.

Additional rules apply if a veteran did not file a claim with the VA by May 3, 1989. A claim gets even more complex if the veteran applied for benefits due to more than one Agent Orange presumptive disease at different times.

Due to the complexity of the Nehmer rule, as well as other facets of the VA bureaucracy, the VA often gets Agent Orange effective dates wrong. At the same time, a veteran may struggle to  explain to the VA why the effective date of their Agent Orange claim is wrong. The difference in effective dates could result in a significant amount of money.

Berry Law Firm works with many veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange. We understand the technicalities of the Nehmer rule. We can review your file and seek the proper amount of compensation for you.