VA Makes Decision on Expansion of Agent Orange Presumptive Conditions

Details Won’t Be Announced Until After Federal Rulemaking Process

By Sandra Basu

WASHINGTON—VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD, said he has made a decision on the expansion of the list of presumptive conditions for Agent Orange compensation and has passed it on to the next step in the process.

“I spent a great deal of time personally looking at all of the data on the presumptives, and I have made a decision,” Shulkin said last month. The comments were made during a speech on VA benefits, where he explained he could not announce the details of the decision since it still needs to go through federal rulemaking procedures.

“My intention is to do what is right for veterans, and if I were to not honor the process that is used, my fear is that I would hurt the ultimate outcome of getting veterans the benefits they deserve,” he said.

Shulkin’s comments came just days after he wrote in a Nov. 1 statement—a deadline he had established earlier this year—that he had “made a decision to further explore new presumptive conditions for service connection that may ultimately qualify for disability compensation,” adding, that VA would “now begin work with the [Trump] Administration to concurrently conduct a legal and regulatory review of these potential presumptive conditions for awarding disability compensation to eligible veterans.”

Currently, VA recognizes 14 presumptive conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides. Veterans’ groups have been pushing, however, for VA to act on the National Academy of Medicine’s report “Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2014,” released in March 2016.

 

Planes spray Agent Orange over a forest in North Vietnam. Agent Orange was a blend of herbicides used to defoliate forests where Viet Cong forces were based. Photo from Wikipedia

That report changed, for certain health effects, the categories of association with exposure to the herbicides sprayed in Vietnam. In the report, bladder cancer and hypothyroidism were moved from “inadequate or insufficient” evidence of association up to “limited or suggestive” evidence of association. The committee also “clarified” that Vietnam veterans with “Parkinson-like symptoms,” but without a formal diagnosis of Parkinson disease, should be considered eligible under the presumption that Parkinson’s disease and the veterans’ service are connected.

 

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