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Veterans Law

VA Disability Ratings for Cancer and its Residuals

April 16, 2017

According to data obtained from the VA Central Cancer Registry, more than 40,000 cancer cases are reported among veterans each year.  Veterans with cancer account for approximately 3 percent of all cases of cancer in the United States.  If you have been diagnosed with cancer after serving in the military, you may be eligible to receive VA disability benefits.

Service Connection for Cancer

In order to receive VA disability benefits for cancer, you must establish service connection.  For direct service connection, you must prove to VA that you are currently diagnosed with cancer and that it is at least as likely as not the result of your military service.  However, there are some situations where cancer is a presumptive condition.  For veterans that meet certain eligibility requirements, VA will presume that their cancer is connected to their military service.  Examples of situations in which VA affords presumptive service connection for cancer include the following:

VA presumes that certain cancers are associated with exposure to Agent Orange, including:

Veterans who served (1) boots on the ground in Vietnam, (2) in Vietnam’s inland waterways, or (3) in Vietnam’s territorial seas (Blue Water Navy veterans) between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975 are eligible to receive VA disability benefits for the above-mentioned cancers on a presumptive basis.

For veterans who participated in a radiation-risk activity during service, VA presumes that certain cancers are related to their exposure, including cancers of the:

  • Bile ducts
  • Bone
  • Brain
  • Breast
  • Colon
  • Esophagus
  • Gall bladder
  • Liver (primary site, but not if cirrhosis or hepatitis B is indicated)
  • Pancreas
  • Pharynx
  • Ovary
  • Salivary gland
  • Small intestine
  • Stomach
  • Thyroid
  • Urinary tract (kidney/renal, pelvis, urinary bladder, and urethra)

Leukemia (except chronic lymphocytic leukemia), lymphomas (except Hodgkin’s disease), and multiple myeloma are also included in VA’s list of presumptive conditions associated with ionizing radiation exposure.  These veterans do not have to prove a connection between these cancers and their service to be eligible for VA disability compensation.

VA Disability Ratings for Cancer and Residual Effects

If you are service-connected for an active cancer, VA should automatically assign a 100 percent disability rating.  This rating continues for as long as your cancer is active, and then for another six months following the successful completion of a treatment program, such as chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery.  Six months after your cancer treatment ends, VA will schedule you for a Compensation & Pension examination to evaluate the current status of your condition.  If the examination shows that your cancer is no longer active and is in remission, VA will evaluate the cancer based on its residuals.  For example, erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence are common residual symptoms of prostate cancer.  If prostate cancer is no longer active, VA will likely reduce the disability rating for that condition and assign new ratings based on the severity of the veteran’s erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence if present.