Secondary Service Connection for Agent Orange VA Claims
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 the specified timeframes were exposed to Agent Orange:
- Veterans with service in the Republic of Vietnam between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975
- In or near the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ) between September 1, 1967 and August 31, 1971
- Active duty and reservist personnel who had regular contact with C-123 aircraft between 1969 and 1986
Importantly, the Federal Circuit recently 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 thanks to the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019.
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 as well. While Thailand veterans are not entitled to the same presumptions, they may still qualify for VA disability benefits if they can prove exposure on a facts-found basis.
Presumption of Service Connection for Agent Orange-Related Conditions
In addition to the presumption of exposure, those who served in the above-mentioned locations during the specified time periods are entitled to a presumption of service connection for certain conditions. The presumption of service connection removes the element of service connection that requires veterans to provide a medical nexus linking their condition to their military service. Instead, if a veteran has qualifying service and later develops a condition associated with herbicide exposure, VA will presume that the veteran’s in-service exposure to herbicides caused his or her condition. The following conditions have been identified by VA as “presumptive diseases” related to Agent Orange exposure:
- AL Amyloidosis
- Chronic B-cell leukemias
- Diabetes Mellitus Type 2
- Hodgkin’s Disease
- Ischemic Heart Disease
- Multiple Myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Peripheral Neuropathy, Early-Onset
- Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
- Prostate Cancer
- Respiratory Cancers
- Soft Tissue Sarcomas
It is important to note that if further disease or disability results from one of the above listed presumptive conditions, you can file a claim for a secondary condition.
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 service-connected compensation. In order for VA to grant secondary service connection, veterans must provide the following:
- A diagnosis for the secondary disability; and
- Medical evidence showing the relationship between the service-connected disability and the secondary disability
Secondary Conditions Related to Agent Orange Exposure
A number of the presumptive conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure can cause secondary conditions. 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 already service-connected diabetes mellitus type II that is due to 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 as 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 his or her 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 his or her depression in relation to his or her cancer.
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