New benefits available for Agent Orange illnesses
April 12, 2010
|The state Division of Veterans’ Affairs has distributed 5,000 posters to local veterans’ associations and state veterans’ councilors to post around New York. Photo by Division of Veterans’ Affairs.|
Vietnam Veterans will soon be able to claim health benefits related to three diseases now being attributed to Agent Orange.
The New York state Division of Veteran's Affairs has begun to provide new outreach services for Vietnam era war veterans in response to three diseases being added to the list of presumptive conditions from exposure to Agent Orange. The diseases include B-cell leukemias such as hairy-cell leukemia, Parkinson's disease and ischemic heart disease, bringing a total of 14 conditions assumed to be associated with Agent Orange.
According to Andy Davis, training and outreach coordinator for the New York state Division of Veterans' Affairs, the division has equally distributed 5,000 posters to the New York American Legion, county service veteran agencies, and state veterans' councilors. Fifty counselors who work for the state Division of Veterans' Affairs have been newly trained to inform people about the addition of the diseases. They are also authorized to hang the posters where they deem appropriate.
Davis also said there will be roundtable discussions continuing throughout the next few months statewide to inform veterans about the diseases newly added to the list as well as other information relating to veterans' benefits. The first one will be at Rockland County Community College on April 21 and will be held every two months afterward in places such as Buffalo, the Finger Lakes Region and the Capital Region. The discussions will be geared toward veterans 55 years or older.
Department Vice Commander for the Department of New York American Legion William G. Damson, a Vietnam veteran, said the addition of the diseases is a "long time coming."
"It shouldn't be old news but it is," said Damson about diseases related to Agent Orange. "It will be with some people until they die," he continued, talking about the effects from exposure to Agent Orange.
"We absolutely agree with the new rules. We need to act fast on the new ones [conditions relating to Agent Orange] but also have to remember the other ones as well," said Ned Foote, president of the New York State Council of Vietnam Veterans' of America. He said he is urging veterans in his organization to submit proposals soon to qualify for benefits relating to the addition of the three diseases. He said he has seen some new claims take up to seven years to be processed.
During the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971, the U.S. military used more than 19 million gallons of herbicides, such as Agent Orange, in the Republic of Vietnam to remove plants and leaves from foliage that provided enemy cover.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 100,000 veterans exposed to herbicides while serving in Vietnam and other areas will have an easier path to qualify for disability pay under these changes. Davis said the conditions relating to exposure only apply to those who served on the ground of Vietnam or the internal waterways.
According to Davis, 80,000 previous claims relating to health benefits from exposure to Agent Orange are expected to be re-examined by the federal government and up to 200,000 new claims overall. New York as of September 30, 2009 had 315,000 Vietnam era Veterans. Davis said there are two types of benefits veterans can receive health care or federal compensation.
"Vietnam Veterans currently make up our largest veterans demographic in New York. The division wants to ensure that they are informed about these changes and the effect it may have on their lives," said James D. McDonough Jr., director of the New York State Division of Veterans Affairs.
"This is an important step forward for Vietnam Veterans suffering from these three illnesses," said United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "These warriors deserve medical care and compensation for health problems they have incurred."
At this stage, the rules to add the disease are technically proposed and not official, but Davis said they are expected to be officially added around summer and veterans are encouraged to submit their applications for compensation now so agencies can begin to working of their claims. Davis said that, as of about six months ago, there were almost a million backlogged claims being processed by the federal government.
"Logically, the overall number of claims can be expected to grow, as will the backlog and processing times due to these new Agent Orange claims. But with these four pilots and the 27 percent increase we have provided to Veterans Benefits Administration's budget in 2011, I expect that we will shape and control the growth in claims, so that by 2015, we will be well on our way to eliminating the backlog," said Shinseki. As of April 5 2010, the backlog for pending claims is 517,271.