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VA Announces New Presumptive Respiratory Conditions Related to Particulate Matter

Alyse Phillips

August 11, 2021

Updated: November 20, 2023

VA Announces New Presumptive Respiratory Conditions Related to Particulate Matter

Three new respiratory conditions are now considered presumptive by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  Starting August 2, 2021, veterans diagnosed with chronic asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis within 10 years of a qualifying period of service in Southwest Asia and certain other areas will have their disability claims processed on a presumptive basis.

This particulate matter presumption announcement comes shortly after a May 27 determination by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough, who stated that VA would consider adding respiratory conditions to the list of presumptive chronic disabilities.  This serves as the first recommendation from a newly formed VA internal process that intends to support rulemaking based on scientific evidence.

Now, thanks to VA’s new presumption, thousands of veterans exposed to particulate matter in overseas military bases, including Iraq and Afghanistan, can more easily secure VA disability compensation for chronic asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis.

VA Disability Benefits for Respiratory Conditions

Understanding the Harmful Effects of Particulate Matter Pollution

What is Particulate Matter?

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), particulate matter is a mixture of tiny particles and droplets (e.g., dust, dirt, smoke, or soot) polluting the air.  Some particles are visible to the human eye while others are so small only electron microscopes can detect them.

Particulate matter generally forms in the atmosphere following a complex reaction of pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.  If inhaled, particulate matter can burrow deep into the lungs and even infiltrate the bloodstream, leading to serious pulmonary issues and other health effects.

Particulate Matter Exposure and Veterans

U.S. veterans stationed in Southwest Asia beginning in the 1990s were likely exposed to dust, sandstorms, and other environmental hazards containing particulate matter, and thus breathed in these toxic fumes for extended periods of time.

A portion of this particulate matter pollution may have been caused by military burn pits, a method of waste disposal practiced by the U.S. Military and its contractors in the post-9/11 era.  Huge amounts of waste (e.g., human waste, medical waste, plastic, rubber, petroleum, and ammunition) generated by military bases were burned, emitting plumes of toxic smoke containing particulate matter and other dangerous toxins.

As a result, veterans who served in Southwest Asia and surrounding areas are now suffering from a multitude of different illnesses and disabilities.

Presumptive Service Connection for Particulate Matter Exposure

To be eligible for the particulate matter exposure presumption according to the new VA guidelines, veterans must have a current diagnosis of chronic asthma, rhinitis, or sinusitis that manifested within 10 years of a qualifying period of military service.

This particulate matter presumption impacts veterans who served in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, or Djibouti between September 19, 2001 and the present day.  It also encompasses veterans who served between August 2, 1990 and the present in the Southwest Asia theater of operations.  The Southwest Asia theater of operations refers to the following areas:

  • Iraq
  • Kuwait
  • Saudi Arabia
  • The neutral zone between Iraq and Saudi Arabia
  • Bahrain
  • Qatar
  • The United Arab Emirates
  • Oman
  • Gulf of Aden
  • Gulf of Oman
  • Persian Gulf
  • Arabian Sea
  • Red Sea
  • The airspace above all these locations

Veterans who meet these qualifications should file VA Form 21-526EZ if they are filing an initial claim for any of the three conditions.  If reapplying, veterans should submit VA Form 20-0995.

Chronic asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis are just a few of numerous disabilities veterans have developed following service in these areas.  Veterans with illnesses resulting from particulate matter exposure that are not yet considered presumptive by VA can still establish service connection on a direct basis.

Other VA Presumptive Conditions

As previously mentioned, VA presumes service connection for certain conditions based on time and location of service.  While VA’s presumptive list continues to expand, there are still numerous illnesses and injuries not yet considered presumptive.  Therefore, many veterans have difficulty securing VA compensation for their service-related conditions.

In addition to the new respiratory presumptions, here are a few other circumstances in which VA offers presumptive service connection.


Medically Unexplained Chronic Multisymptom Illnesses, or MUCMIs, affect veterans who served in Southwest Asia between August 1, 1990 and December 31, 2026.  Veterans from this time began developing unexplained and sometimes severe illnesses and symptoms, prompting VA to create a presumption under 38 CFR § 3.317 to make it easier for them to obtain service connection.

Agent Orange Exposure

During the Vietnam War era, the U.S. infamously used chemical agents, known as “rainbow herbicides,” to destroy foliage, disrupting enemy food supply chains and preventing ambush.  Veterans exposed to Agent Orange in particular have developed serious health conditions, with symptoms often not appearing until years after their service.

If a veteran served in a specific area and timeframe during the Vietnam War-era, VA currently presumes service connection if they have any of the following conditions:

  • AL Amyloidosis
  • Bladder Cancer
  • Chronic B-cell Leukemias
  • Chloracne
  • Diabetes Mellitus Type 2
  • Hodgkin’s disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Ischemic Heart Disease
  • Multiple Myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Parkinson’s-like Symptoms
  • Peripheral Neuropathy
  • Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
  • Prostate Cancer
  • Respiratory Cancer: Such as lung cancer and other cancers of the respiratory system.
  • Soft Tissue Sarcomas

How CCK Can Help Veterans Impacted by the Particulate Matter Presumption

If you are a  veteran who developed a respiratory condition following your military service, Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD is here to help.

Even if your service-related illness is not yet considered presumptive by VA, you can still apply for disability benefits.  If VA denied your claim, the team of accredited agents and attorneys at CCK may be able to help you secure the compensation you deserve.

Reach out to CCK today for a complimentary consultation regarding VA’s new presumptive matter presumption and your respiratory condition.

About the Author

Bio photo of Alyse Phillips

Alyse is a Supervising Attorney at Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick. Since joining the firm in August of 2016, she has specialized in representing disabled veterans and their dependents before the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

See more about Alyse