VA Disability Benefits for Soft Tissue Sarcoma
Soft Tissue Sarcoma
Soft tissue sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that begins in the tissues that connect, support, and surround other body structures, including muscle, fat, blood vessels, nerves, and tendons. This condition can occur anywhere in a person’s body; however, the most common types occur in the abdomen, arms, and legs. While soft tissue sarcoma may not cause any signs and symptoms in its early stages, it typically leads to the following:
- Noticeable lumps or swelling
- Pain, if the lump (tumor) is pressing on nerves or muscles
- Blockage in the stomach or intestines or gastrointestinal bleeding if the tumor is located in the abdomen or digestive tract
Soft tissue sarcoma can be diagnosed using a combination of examinations and tests, including biopsies. Upon diagnosis, it can be graded from stage I to stage IV. Stage I typically means the tumors have not spread whereas stage IV usually indicates that the cancer has developed in other parts of the body. Surgery is the most common initial treatment for this condition as the surgeon will remove the tumors and some of the tissue around them, if possible. However, if the cancer is recurrent or has spread throughout the body, chemotherapy and radiation therapy will often be used alongside surgery.
Relationship Between Soft Tissue Sarcoma and Agent Orange Exposure
The Health and Medicine Division (formally known as the Institute of Medicine) of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded in its 1994 report “Veterans and Agent Orange: Health Effects of Herbicides Used in Vietnam” and other updates that there is evidence of a positive association between exposure to herbicides used in Vietnam and soft tissue sarcomas. As a result of these research findings, VA presumes certain soft tissue sarcomas in veterans are related to their exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service. However, VA does not presume the following types of soft tissue sarcoma to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange: osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma.
Veterans with soft tissue sarcomas, other than those mentioned above, who served in the following locations during the specified time periods, should be awarded service connection on a presumptive basis:
- Vietnam (landmass, inland waterways, and territorial seas) between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975
- In or near the Korean DMZ between September 1, 1967 and August 31, 1971
- Working on C-123 aircraft between 1969 and 1986
Importantly, surviving spouses, dependent children, and dependent parents of veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during military service and died as the result of soft tissue sarcoma may be eligible for survivors’ benefits.
How VA Rates Soft Tissue Sarcoma
VA rates soft tissue sarcoma under 38 CFR § 4.73, Schedule of Ratings – Muscle Injuries, Diagnostic Code 5329. When this type of cancer is active, VA assigns a temporary total, 100 percent disability rating. The rating continues for six months following the cessation of any surgery, radiation treatment, chemotherapy, or other treatment procedures. At that time, VA will schedule an examination to re-evaluate the condition. If the veteran’s soft tissue sarcoma is no longer active, then it will be rated based on any lasting symptoms, residuals, or complications. For example, if the lasting symptoms or complications affect the range of motion of the veteran’s shoulder, it will be rated accordingly.
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