In 1996, President Clinton and Veterans Affairs Secretary Jesse Brown asked Congress to pass legislation providing health care, monthly disability compensation, and vocational rehabilitation to the children of Vietnam veterans suffering from the serious birth defect spina bifida, which has been linked to the veterans' exposure to Agent Orange. Congress passed the legislation, marking the first time our nation had ever compensated the children of veterans for a birth defect associated with their parent's exposure to toxic chemicals during their military service. Veterans Affairs is now providing benefits to over 800 children, including minors and adults.
Effective December 16, 2003, Congress authorized these benefits to children with Spina Bifida of certain veterans who served at or near the demilitarized zone in Korea between September 1, 1967 and August 31, 1971, because Agent Orange is known to have been sprayed in that area.
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Agent Orange was one of the weed-killing chemicals used by the U.S. military in the Vietnam War. It was sprayed to remove leaves from trees that enemy troops hid behind. Agent Orange and similar chemicals were known as “herbicides.” Agent Orange was applied by airplanes, helicopters, trucks and backpack sprayers.
In the 1970’s some veterans became concerned that exposure to Agent Orange might cause delayed health effects. One of the chemicals in Agent Orange contained small amounts of dioxin (also known as TCDD), which had been found to cause a variety of illnesses in laboratory animals. More recent studies have suggested that dioxin may be related to several types of cancer and other disorders.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pays disability compensation to Vietnam veterans with injuries or diseases that began in, or were aggravated by, their military service. These are called “service-connected” disabilities.
Monthly payment rates are based on the veteran's combined rating for his or her service-connected disabilities. These ratings are based on the severity of the disabilities. Additional amounts are paid to certain veterans with severe disabilities ("special monthly compensation") and certain veterans with dependents.
In an Agent Orange-based claim by a Vietnam veteran for service-connected benefits, Veterans Affairs requires:
Under the law, veterans who served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975 (including those who visited Vietnam even briefly), and who have a disease that Veterans Affairs recognizes as being associated with Agent Orange, are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange.
These veterans are eligible for service-connected compensation based on their service, if they have one of the diseases on Veterans Affair's list of "Diseases associated with exposure to certain herbicide agents" Veterans Affairs updates this list regularly based on reports from the National Academy of Sciences, an independent research and education institution.
Survivors of veterans (including spouses, children and dependent parents) who died as the result of a service-connected disease may be eligible for monthly Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits. These survivors may also be eligible for education, home loan and medical care benefits.
If the Veterans Affairs Regional Office says your disability is not service-connected or if the percentage of disability is lower than what you think is fair, you have the right to appeal to the Board of Veterans' Appeals. The first step in appealing is to send the Veterans Affairs Regional Office a "Notice of Disagreement" This Notice of Disagreement is a written statement saying that you "disagree" with the denial. Be sure your Notice includes the date of the Veterans Affair's denial letter and be sure to list the benefits you are still seeking.
In response to the Notice of Disagreement, you will get a "Statement of the Case" from the Veterans Affairs Regional Office. This will repeat the reasons stated in the Veterans Affair's denial letter why your claim was denied and will include the relevant Veterans Affairs regulations. Once you get the Statement of the Case, if you still wish to pursue your appeal, you should file a Veterans Affairs Form 9, "Appeal to Board Veterans' Appeals" which is sent to with the Statement of the Case. You have 60 days from the date on the Statement of the Case, or one year from the date the Veterans Affairs first denied your claim, to file the Veterans Affairs Form 9. Whichever date is later is your deadline.
The Board of Veterans' Appeals (BVA) is a part of the Veterans Affairs (VA), located in Washington, D.C. Members of the BVA review benefit claims decisions made by VA Regional Offices and issue a new decision. You may have a hearing before the BVA in Washington, DC or at your VA Regional Office.
Anyone appealing to the BVA should read the "Understanding the Appeal Process" pamphlet. It explains the steps involved in filing an appeal and to serve as a reference for the terms and abbreviations used in the appeal process. The Board mails a copy of this pamphlet to anyone who appeals their case.
If the Board of Veteran's Affairs does not grant all the benefits you are seeking, you have four choices:
If you served in Vietnam and believe that you have a disease caused by herbicide exposure, but that disease is not on Veteran Affair's list of diseases associated with herbicides like Agent Orange, you may still apply for service-connection. In these cases, Veterans Affairs requires:
Herbicides were used by the U.S. military to defoliate military facilities in the U.S. and in other countries as far back as the 1950s. Even if you did not serve in Vietnam, you can still apply for service-connected benefits if you were exposed to an herbicide while in the military which you believe caused your disease or injury. If you have a disease which is on the list of diseases which Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes as being associated with Agent Orange, the VA requires:
Even if you decide not to file a claim for VA compensation benefits based on Agent Orange, you can still get a free physical examination at the nearest VA Medical Center. This is called the Agent Orange Registry Exam. This exam consists of four parts: an exposure history, a medical history, laboratory tests and a physical exam of those body systems most commonly affected by toxic chemicals. This exam might detect diseases which can be treated more effectively the earlier they are diagnosed. You may also be entitled to free ongoing medical treatment at a VA medical facility.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers both disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. Veterans can receive both Social Security disability insurance benefits and VA disability compensation. (The supplemental security income benefit (SSI) is offset for VA pension or compensation.) Unlike VA compensation benefits that are measured in degrees of disability, SSA benefits require a total disability that will last at least one year. If you cannot work because of your disability, contact the nearest district office of the Social Security Administration.