Secondary Service Connection for Agent Orange VA Claims
What is Agent Orange?
Agent Orange is one of the so called “rainbow herbicides” used during the Vietnam War era. The herbicide agent was made up of equal parts 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, and VA acknowledges its use in Vietnam starting in 1962. As a byproduct of its production, Agent Orange also contained dioxin, a highly toxic and dangerous chemical that can have significant health impacts on those exposed to it. Agent Orange is an herbicide, not a disease or condition itself. However, veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange can develop a number of health conditions as a result of their exposure.
Who Was Exposed to Agent Orange?
VA presumes that veterans who served in the following locations during specified timeframes were exposed to Agent Orange:
- January 9, 1962 to May 7, 1975 in Vietnam:Boots-on-the-ground in Vietnam, veterans with service aboard a ship that operated in the inland waterways of Vietnam (i.e., Brown Water veterans), or veterans with service aboard a ship in Vietnam’s territorial seas (i.e., Blue Water Navy veterans)
- September 1, 1967 to August 31, 1971 in the DMZ:On or near the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ)
- 1969 to 1986, C-123 aircraft:Active duty and reservist personnel who had regular contact with C-123 aircraft
Importantly, in January 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled in favor of Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans in Procopio v. Wilkie. Specifically, the Federal Circuit decided that the “Republic of Vietnam” includes its territorial seas in which Blue Water Navy veterans served. Therefore, the presumption of exposure now applies to veterans with boots on the ground, veterans with service aboard a ship that operated in the inland waterways of Vietnam (i.e., Brown Water veterans), and veterans who served offshore within twelve nautical miles seaward of the demarcation line of Vietnam (i.e., Blue Water Navy veterans).
Since the court case mentioned above, Blue Water Navy Veterans have been afforded the same presumption of exposure as Veterans with “boots on the ground” service.
VA also recognizes that veterans whose service involved duty on or near the perimeters of certain Royal Thai Air Force Bases in Thailand between February 28, 1961 and May 7, 1975 may have been exposed to Agent Orange. While Thailand veterans are not entitled to the same presumptions, they may still qualify for VA disability benefits if they can prove exposure.
Agent Orange Presumptive Conditions
In addition to the presumption of exposure, VA has recognized certain Agent Orange-related conditions as eligible for presumptive service connection. If a veteran has a presumptive condition and served in a qualifying location during a qualifying period, this eliminates the need for a medical nexus element linking the condition to military service. Essentially, VA will presume that the veteran’s in-service exposure to herbicides caused their condition.
The following conditions have been identified by VA as “presumptive diseases” related to Agent Orange exposure:
- AL Amyloidosis
- Bladder cancer
- Chronic B-cell leukemias
- Diabetes mellitus type 2
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Ischemic heart disease: Including coronary artery disease, stable and unstable angina, myocardial infarction, and sudden cardiac death.
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Parkinson’s disease
- Parkinson’s-like symptoms
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT)
- Prostate cancer
- Respiratory Cancer: Such as lung cancer and other cancers of the respiratory system.
- Soft Tissue Sarcomas
It is important to note that if you develop a condition as a result of one of the VA Agent Orange presumptive conditions, you can file a claim for secondary service connection
What is Secondary Service Connection?
A secondary service-connected disability is a disability that resulted from a condition that is already service-connected. In claims for secondary service connection, proving a nexus is especially important. A nexus is a medical opinion that, in cases of secondary service connection, links a veteran’s secondary disability to their already service-connected disability.
Veterans can file a claim for secondary service connection the same way they filed the initial claim. For VA to grant secondary service connection, veterans must provide evidence of the following:
- A diagnosis for the secondary disability; and
- Medical evidence (i.e., a nexus) showing the relationship between the service-connected disability and the secondary disability
Secondary Conditions Related to Agent Orange Exposure
A number of Agent Orange presumptive conditions can cause Agent Orange secondary diseases. Some examples include the following:
Peripheral Neuropathy Secondary to Diabetes Mellitus Type II
Peripheral neuropathy is one of the most common conditions secondary to diabetes. Peripheral neuropathy impacts a veteran’s peripheral nerves and can cause numbness, weakness, pain, and tingling in the upper and lower extremities, usually in the feet and hands. Veterans can be service-connected for peripheral neuropathy as secondary to their service-connected diabetes mellitus type II resulting from Agent Orange exposure.
Other conditions that are commonly secondary to diabetes include diabetic retinopathy, erectile dysfunction, and kidney disease. Veterans can receive secondary service connection for these conditions as well.
Depression Secondary to Cancer
It is not uncommon for a veteran with cancer to start suffering from depression as a result of the negative effects the disease has on their life. In this case, it might be helpful for the veteran to provide lay statements from family and friends who can attest to the onset and progression of their depression in relation to their Agent Orange-caused cancer.
Other Examples of Agent Orange Secondary Diseases
- Hypertension secondary to Parkinson’s disease
- Sleep apnea secondary to Parkinson’s disease
- Kidney failure secondary to multiple myeloma
- Heart diseases secondary to hypothyroidism
Was Your Agent Orange Claim for Secondary Service Connection Denied?
If VA denied your claim for secondary service connection, Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD may be able to help. The knowledgeable accredited attorneys and claims agents at CCK have decades of experience successfully appealing VA denials on behalf of veterans. The CCK team can represent veterans before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals and the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC).
Reach out to CCK today for a free consultation with a member of our team.
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