About two years ago, Secretary Shinseki made the decision to award presumptions of service connection to certain diseases that may have been caused by exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. That decision added nearly a quarter of a million claims to an already stressed backlog, but it was a long overdue victory for Vietnam Vets and their families who waited too long for action.
Today, VA announced that nearly all of the 230,000 claims for Agent Orange presumption for diseases including ischemic heart disease, hairy cell and other chronic B-cell leukemias, and Parkinson’s disease have been processed, which has put $3.6 billion into the hands of Vietnam Vets and their survivors. The most experienced raters, about 36 percent of all employees who handle claims, were put on these claims to get the claims finished as soon as possible.
Now that nearly all Agent Orange presumption claims have been completed, the 1,200 claims workers diverted to this unprecedented action will return to normal duties. This will surely help tackle the backlog, which significantly grown as Veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan and file more complex claims at a higher rate than ever before (45 percent of new Veterans submit claims after service). VA completed one million claims in each of the last two years, an unprecedented number, but the amount of claims submitted outpaced those numbers.
VA has put together a transformation plan that emphasizes technology and new processes to finish claims faster and more accurately. The Veterans Benefits Management System is on its way to 16 regional offices this year, and will be found at 56 regional offices by the end of next year.
Veterans who may qualify for Agent Orange presumption include those who were exposed based on duty or visitation in Vietnam or on its inland waterways between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975; exposed along the demilitarized zone in Korea between April 1, 1968, and August 31, 1971; or exposed due to herbicide tests and storage at military bases within and outside of the United States. Check out the Agent Orange Fast Track web site if you think you may be affected by the diseases listed above as a result of Agent Orange exposure.