In order to prevail on a claim for VA disability benefits, a veteran must be able to demonstrate that the claimed condition is connected to their service. Demonstrating this service connection element can be difficult, if not impossible, when it comes to diseases or conditions for which the cause is not always readily apparent. Beginning in the late 1980’s, Congress acknowledged that this can be particularly challenging for thousands of veterans who suffer from conditions that arise from exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides while in service in Southeast Asia–primarily Vietnam. The result was the creation of the Agent Orange Presumptive List under 38 U.S. Code § 1116, which requires the VA to presume that conditions on the list were caused by AO exposure during service.
Following a report from the National Academy of Medicine, the VA stated that it would consider adding more conditions to the current list of 14 presumptive diseases. Among other things, the report recommends that the VA consider adding bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension, stroke and Parkinson-like symptoms without diagnosis of that particular disease. Adding any or all of these conditions to the presumptive list could potentially impact thousands of veterans.
This summer, VA Secretary David Shulkin stated that the agency would decide by November 1, 2017, whether and how to implement the report’s recommendations. When the deadline arrived yesterday, however, the Secretary punted. In a brief statement released by the Secretary’s office on the evening of November 1, the following was all that was provided:
Today, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David J. Shulkin announced that he is considering possible new presumptive conditions that may qualify for disability compensation related to Agent Orange exposure.