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VA details changes for Agent Orange claims

By Ed O'Keefe

Updated 10:34 a.m. ET
More than 150,000 Vietnam War veterans may apply for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs in the next 18 months thanks to new regulations making it easier to compensate for health problems caused by exposure to the Vietnam-era defoliant Agent Orange.

The changes could result in payouts of about $42 billion in the next decade. But they could still face resistance from lawmakers concerned about the VA paying out claims for ailments that are common in elderly Americans anyway, despite military service.

Under the new regulations set for publication in Tuesday's Federal Register, VA will presume that veterans who served in Vietnam between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975 were exposed to Agent Orange and will add three medical conditions -- hairy cell leukemia, Parkinson’s disease and ischemic heart disease -- to its list of disabilities presumed to have a connection to exposure to the herbicide.

VA also plans to review about 90,000 previously denied claims from veterans who previously sought benefits for Agent Orange-related health problems.

The changes could result in about $13 billion in benefits payments in the next year, VA Acting Undersecretary for Benefits Michael Walcoff said Saturday.

“There will be articles out there written by writers -- we’re working with a writer right now who’s very negative about this -- very negative about the fact it’s going to cost so much money,” Walcoff told attendees at the American Legion National Convention. “Very negative about the fact that anybody who was in country in Vietnam qualifies for this. That’s the kind of thinking that’s out there."

“The fact is we’re obeying the law," Walcoff told attendees. "The law says that anybody who was in country is entitled to the presumptions. Besides that, I believe that what we’re doing is the right thing to do. It’s what [VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki] wants to do.”

Rick Weidman, director of government relations for Vietnam Veterans of America, also defended the high costs, saying they should be considered in the same context of the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"We would make the point that many, many times the number of troops originally estimated have [traumatic brain injury] coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan," Weidman said. "Should we not then award it because it’s too many people.? It’s the same argument – an environmental wound is the same as a blast wound."

Congress included $13.4 billion for Agent Orange-related benefits in this year's $58 billion supplemental spending bill, but Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), a Vietnam veteran, has said that adding ischemic heart disease to VA's list of approved diseases could result in the department paying veterans for a disease they might have contracted anyway as they aged.

“I take a back seat to no one in my concern for our veterans. I have spent my entire adult life one way or the other involved in veterans law," Webb said in May. "But I do think we need to have practical, proper procedures and I do believe that the executive branch…needs to be held to an accountable standard.”

Webb sits on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, which is scheduled to hold a hearing on the new regulations on Sept. 23.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | August 30, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Military, Workplace Issues  
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Posted by: getjiggly | August 30, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: getjiggly | August 30, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

The True Cost of War is incalculable.

Posted by: cayambe13 | August 30, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

As a disabled in Combat, Infantry soldier in Viet Nam during the Tet Offensive i can easily say that the entire bill for Agent Orange should go to the War Profiteers who instigated that illegal invasion and occupation for their pure profit. From Remington Arms to DuPont all should be held accountable.
If a Vet feels Agent Orange is at issue the Vet should get compensation.
The Wholesale recklessness of this Countries Legislators wedded to Big Corp Biz deserves to be bashed down and the Criminals made to pay forever.

Posted by: Darwin26 | August 30, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

I had a heart attack at 39, with no family history of early heart disease, or any other reason reason for a heart attack at such an early age - I was active and healthy. I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes 6 years later, but only after developing neuropathy in my feet and legs, a condition that takes years to develop. My doctor said I had probably developed diabetes years earlier. The strong connection between diabetes and heart disease leads me to believe my arteries had been damaged by diabetes long before it was diagnosed, leading to a heart attack at a young age, that couldn't solidly be attributed to any other reason. The connection seems obvious to me, and always did, which is why I claimed it long ago.

Posted by: Pigsy | August 30, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for your service gentlemen. No amount of VA benefits can ever repay you for your service to this country.

I hope the VA and Congress does the right thing and takes care the people it sends to war.

Posted by: heinchops | August 30, 2010 8:34 PM | Report abuse

Will politicians ever recognize the true costs of war that go on for years and years? I cannot even imagine the costs of caring for shattered veterans from the two current unnecessary wars.

Posted by: scatterbrain17 | August 30, 2010 9:41 PM | Report abuse

The efforts to take care of vets on the cheap is a national embarrassment. Any vet from any war should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to long term care or support.

The biggest disappointment in the story is Senator Webb. He's taken care of as a Senator, but seems to have forgotten those he served with. Or those who simply served their country.

Posted by: KHMJr | August 30, 2010 10:47 PM | Report abuse

As a veteran of the Lost War in Vietnam, I'm sorry for everything that happened. It was my fault and any benefits should be spent on more worthwhile things like more war. So, I apologize to Senator Webb for being a Vietnam Veteran with service connected disabilities from Agent Orange. Just don't take my burial benefits away, I'll probably need them soon since it appears Vietnam Veterans are dropping over dead everyday but I guess that's just from old age too like their diseases. Man I hate being a veteran of Vietnam. It sucked then and it sucks more now.

Posted by: tconnely | August 31, 2010 1:01 AM | Report abuse

Excuse me while I die Mr. Webb. Go back to Nam with your Vietnamese wife and see first hand what Agent Orange has done to the people of the south.Then come home and look us in the eye and see what wrong we have done. I'm another vet sick and tired of our treatment by the nation we defended. Don't give us the crap you do so much for the vet. You Sir are just another wolf in sheep's clothing.Standing in session beating you're chest. Try doing the right thing and give us what little we have left and quit treating the Vietnam vet's like second hand citizens.
By hook or crook you people in that cesspool we call our nations capital are ready to throw us another screwing.

We are so VERY SORRY THAT OUR NATIONS LEADERS LIED, CHEATED, and STOLE our HONOR for the sake of personal gain at the expense of 53,000.00 killed and many still dieing every day. I guess you're about to join them as well. Go figure we should have known.

Posted by: chekawa | August 31, 2010 2:14 AM | Report abuse

Thank you Vets, one and all. Taking care of you is the least this country can do. Shame on you Sen. Webb. I would like to view your voting record to see what you really think is important. We don't need people like you in congress.

Posted by: boblee1 | August 31, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

My neighbor died 12 years ago having driven directly into the rear of a parked trailer. He, literally, lost his head, & most people were quick to point out that he was a mean, nasty, abusive druggie. This was true.
What most people didn't know was he had a brain tumor, linked after years of fighting the VA, to Agent Orange. He was in constant agony. The VA's acknowledgement of his service related tumor came too late for any physician to remove it-which could have been done had it done so sooner.
As his three youngest sons were friends of my son, then 10, I wound up helping raise them. They were 6, 11 & 12. Their Dad was NOT a nice guy but my boys sure didn't deserve to lose him.

Posted by: 34thBombGroup | August 31, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

senator Webb should go after the military industrial complex that got us into Vietnam as well as the other "wars" that are forced on us.
The money trail would be an interesting and eye opening book and movie.
How about we only pay for the loss of right feet and legs that would cut the payout in half, how ridiculous would that be?
we should look at the total cost of any war before committing our military
just think of how much the country might save if a government official had the same benefits as the rest of us have to fight for, maybe we should look into that.
It would seem logical that if Diabetes can lead to heart disease then that condition is also caused by agent orange. There are too many instances of men and women too young to be having these problems when they first manifest themselves, and most are not overweight at the time
Tread lightly Mr Web, If I have my way regarding Government benefits you may have to rely on the same benefits I get.

Posted by: njlangys | August 31, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

As a Vietnam Vet (1967) that suffers from diabetes and ischemic heart disease I think it's important to educate young people that may be considering military service that the country will not necessarily care for them long term in the event of injury or health problems. This is demonstrated with Sen. Webb's comments concerning the cost of health care for aging veterans.

Posted by: jake167victoria | September 1, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

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