VA streamlines Agent Orange claims

Wednesday - 9/8/2010, 9:31am EDT

Brad Mayes, Director, Boston Regional Office, VA

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

Many service members who were exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange while in Vietnam still live with its after-effects. That's why Veterans Affairs decided to streamline and speed up the process of settling claims of illness related to Agent Orange.

Brad Mayes, former Director of VA's Compensation and Pension Service, told Federal News Radio through the Federal Register, VA is "adding three new diseases to the list of conditions that are presumed to be service-connected as a result to exposure to the herbicide that we commonly refer to as Agent Orange."

According to a VA press release, those diseases are Parkinson's disease and ischemic heart disease and they are expanding chronic lymphocytic leukemia to include all chronic B cell leukemias, such as hairy cell leukemia. With this addition, 14 diseases now qualify for benefits for exposure to Agent Orange.

"In a nutshell," said Mayes, "what this regulation will do is make it easier for veterans to establish that these diseases are related to exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange."

In addition, said Mayes, the process will affect all claims processed by the Veterans Administration.

"VA is looking to streamline the processing of these claims, and ultimately all claims, by developing simplified exam protocols." Vets would take the updated protocol to their private physician or the VA would use them to make it easier to determine that the vet has the disease and the level of severity.

Put simply, said Mayes, the criteria will be that the vet served in Vietnam, they have a qualifying disease, and have 10% or more disability as a result. All veterans who served within Vietnam will now be presumed to have been exposed to the herbicide. They won't have to prove it, said Mayes, just demonstrate that they had the requisite service.

As a result of the changes, said Mayes, over the next year to year and a half, the VA expects 150,000 veterans to submit claims related to Agent Orange. Claims from approximately 90,000 veterans will also be reviewed using the new guidelines.

"We're also in the process of automating the integration of the information collected through these protocols," said Mayes, "with our claims processing system."

More importantly though...we've been training up our personnel. We have consolidated the processing of certain types of claims that are going to be coming in as a result of this decision to a number of regional offices. So I would say that we have brought some people on board, we're focusing the adjudication of these claims in certain places and we've put out a significant amount of material and are training up our folks to be ready."

Ready, willing, and able to handle the claims immediately.

Brad Mayes is the Director of the VA's Regional Office in Boston, Massachusetts and is a former Director of VA's Compensation and Pension Service.

For more information on filing claims, see the VA's website for Filing Claims for Presumptive Conditions Based on Herbicide Exposure.