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Veterans Law

VA Disability Ratings for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Lisa Ioannilli

June 1, 2021

Updated: November 20, 2023

VA Disability Ratings for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Hodgkin’s lymphoma affects many veterans, particularly those who may have been exposed to toxins, or other chemicals, during their service.  Veterans who developed Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a result of their service are eligible for monthly VA disability benefits.

What is Hodgkin’s Lymphoma?

Lymphomas are cancers that start in the white blood cells, or lymphocytes.  There are two types of lymphocytes: B-cells and T-cells.  B cells create proteins called antibodies that help protect against bacteria and viruses.  T-cells destroy germs or abnormal cells in the body, as well as aid the activity of other immune cells.  Most commonly, Hodgkin’s lymphoma starts in B cells.  These cells are located in the lymphoid tissue, which is found in many parts of the body.

Types of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

There are multiple forms of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, such as:

  • Classic Hodgkin Lymphoma 9 out of 10 people who have Hodgkin lymphoma have this form. The cancer cells in this form of lymphoma are called Reed-Sternberg cells.  They are an abnormal form of B-cells.  People who have classic Hodgkin lymphoma usually have enlarged lymph nodes with a small number of Reed-Sternberg cells and many surrounding normal immune cells.  These immune cells are what cause most of the swelling in the lymph nodes.  Additionally, there are four subtypes of classic Hodgkin lymphoma:
    • Nodular sclerosis Hodgkin lymphoma—This form is most common in teens and young adults. It usually begins in the lymph nodes in the neck or chest.
    • Mixed cellularity Hodgkin lymphoma—This sub-type is most common in people with HIV infection. It can also be found in children or elderly adults.  It most commonly affects the upper body.
    • Lymphocyte-rich Hodgkin lymphoma—This sub-type is not as common and usually occurs in the upper half of the body. It usually is only found in a few lymph nodes.
    • Lymphocyte-depleted Hodgkin lymphoma—This sub-type is a rare form, occurring mainly in older people and those infected with HIV. It is a more aggressive form and is more likely to be advanced when first detected.  It is usually in the lymph nodes of the abdomen, spleen, liver, and bone marrow.
  • Nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin Lymphoma—This form of Hodgkin lymphoma is different than classic Hodgkin lymphoma. The cancer cells in this form are much larger variants of Reed-Sternberg cells.  The cancer cells typically start in the lymph nodes in the neck and under the arms.  This form can affect people of any age and is most common in men.  Usually this form grows slower than the other types of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and is treated differently than the above forms.

Diagnosing and Treating Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Often, a hematopathologist, or a doctor who specializes in the blood and cells of the body, to help diagnose Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Usually, this will involve a physical examination, especially of areas where there may be swelling.

Additionally, a biopsy of a lymph node may be necessary to diagnose Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  The samples taken from the biopsy can be analyzed by a hematopathologist to determine if cancer cells are present.

There are multiple forms of treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  These include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and stem cell transplantation.  Ultimately, the form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma a person has, and how severe it is, may determine the method of treatment that is best for them.

VA Service Connection for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

When filing a claim for service connection for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the veteran will need to demonstrate a connection between their military service and their Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  The veteran will also need to submit a diagnosis.  In general, the veteran will need to submit the following to VA:

  • A diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma;
  • An in-service event, illness, or injury; and
  • A nexus linking the veteran’s in-service occurrence with their pancreatic cancer.

To support the veteran’s claim for service connection, the veteran may submit lay evidence.  Lay evidence, or lay statements, can be written by the veteran or anyone who knows the veteran and can speak to their condition.  Importantly, lay evidence may also be submitted by fellow service members.

Compensation and Pension (C&P) Exams for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Once a veteran files a claim for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, VA may request a Compensation and Pension exam, or C&P exam.  To do this, VA may call the veteran or send a letter.  It is very important to make sure VA has the most up-to-date contact information to ensure that the veteran does not miss any C&P exam requests.  It is also very important to attend the exam, as failure to attend can result in VA denying the veteran’s claim.

How Do I Know If My C&P Exam Went Well?

The exam will usually be performed by a VA physician or a VA contracted physician.  Before the exam, the examiner will review the veteran’s c-file.  This will contain any documentation that has been previously submitted to VA, as well as the veteran’s medical and service records.

The veteran may also use a DBQ, or Disability Benefits Questionnaire, to bolster their claim.  A Disability Benefits Questionnaire is a form created by VA that allows the veteran to address important aspects of their condition, such as symptoms, severity, and possible causes, as well as the relationship between their condition and other disabilities.  The veteran may also have their private doctor fill out a DBQ for them.  In claims for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, DBQs can be helpful because a private doctor, such as the veteran’s hematopathologist, can provide more insight into the veteran’s condition.

Exposure and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Hodgkin’s lymphoma has been linked to several different forms of exposure which have affected veterans who served across multiple locations and time periods.

Agent Orange Exposure

Agent Orange is one of several herbicides, or “rainbow herbicides,” that were used during the Vietnam War era.  Specifically, Agent Orange was a mixture of two different kinds of highly toxic chemicals: 2, 4-D and 2, 4, 5-T.  The highly toxic dioxin contaminant known as 2, 3, 7, 8-TCDD is a byproduct that is produced by Agent Orange.  Many veterans came into contact with Agent Orange, including those who served in areas other than Vietnam.

The Agent Orange Act of 1991 created a presumption of service connection for veterans who served in specific times and locations and have developed certain conditions as a result of their exposure.  Then, in 2022, the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (PACT Act) of 2021 expanded presumptions related to Agent Orange exposure to include additional locations and time periods. Specifically, veterans can be eligible to receive disability benefits on a presumptive basis if they had active military, naval, air, or space service in the following locations and time periods:

  • The Republic of Vietnam from January 9, 1962 to May 7, 1975 (including Brown Water veterans and Blue Water veterans);
  • Thailand, at any US or Thai base, from January 9, 1962 to June 30 1976, without regard to the Veteran’s MOS or where on base they were located;
  • Laos from December 1, 1965 to September 30, 1969;
  • Cambodia, specifically at Mimot or Krek, Kampong Cham Province from April 16, 1969 to April 30, 1969;
  • Guam or American Samoa or in the territorial waters thereof from January 9, 1962 to July 30, 1980;
  • Johnson Atoll or a ship that called at Johnston Atoll from January 1, 1972 to September 30, 1977;
  • On 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.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one of the conditions eligible for presumptive service connection.  Essentially, this should make it easier for veterans to secure benefits, as they do not have to prove a medical nexus between their condition and their military service.

Burn Pit Exposure

Military burn pits are large areas of land in which the military and its contractors incinerated all waste generated by military bases.  The United States Military used burn pits as part of its waste disposal protocol in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan in the post-9/11 era.  The practice was effective in reducing large quantities of waste, but the pits emitted plumes of toxic smoke which were later found to cause damaging health effects.  Materials such as human and medical waste, plastic, rubber, petroleum, and ammunition were disposed of in burn pits.

In 2022, the PACT Act added 23 conditions to VA’s presumptive list for toxic exposure, including lymphomas of any type.  Now, “covered veterans” who developed Hodgkin’s lymphoma at any point during or after military service can qualify for presumptive service connection.

A covered veteran is defined as the following:

  1. A veteran who, on or after August 2, 1990, performed active military, naval, air, or space service while assigned to a duty station in, including air space above:
    • Bahrain
    • Iraq
    • Kuwait
    • Oman
    • Qatar
    • Saudi Arabia
    • Somalia
    • United Arab Emirates
  1. A veteran who, on or after September 11, 2001, performed active military, naval, air, or space service, while assigned to a duty station, including the airspace above:
    • Afghanistan
    • Djibouti
    • Egypt
    • Jordan
    • Lebanon
    • Syria

Veterans who served in one of the above locations during a qualifying time period and who developed Hodgkin’s lymphoma can qualify for presumptive service connection without needing to provide a nexus.  This makes is significantly easier to secure VA disability compensation for their condition.

VA Ratings for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Hodgkin’s lymphoma is rated under Diagnostic Code 7709.  Under this code, Hodgkin’s lymphoma will receive a 100 percent rating when it is an active disease or within a treatment phase.  The rating will continue for as long as the veteran’s cancer is active, or they are undergoing treatment.

After six months, following the veteran’s treatment program, VA will schedule a C&P exam to re-evaluate their condition.  If the veteran’s cancer is in remission VA will then re-evaluate the cancer based on its residuals.

VA Disability Benefits for Cancer

TDIU and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Veterans who are prevented from working as a result of their Hodgkin’s lymphoma may be able to receive a monthly VA disability called total disability based on individual unemployability, or TDIU.  This benefit compensates veterans at the 100 percent rating level, even if their disability rating may be less than that.

There are generally two pathways to become eligible for TDIU:

  • 38 CFR § 4.16a (“Schedular”) – For this form of TDIU, the veteran must have:
    • One condition rated at minimum 60 percent OR
    • two conditions that can be combined to reach 70 percent, where one condition is at minimum 40 percent
  • 38 CFR § 4.16b (“Extraschedular”) – This form of TDIU is for veterans who may not be able to achieve the ratings necessary for schedular TDIU but are still unable to obtain substantially gainful employment on account of their conditions.
  • In this instance, the veteran must prove that their condition uniquely hinders their ability to obtain substantially gainful employment and therefore should not be rated on the standard disability rating criteria.

If a veteran is having difficulty getting a higher disability rating for their Hodgkin’s lymphoma, they may be able to seek compensation at the 100 percent level by applying for TDIU.  The veteran may be able to achieve this through schedular TDIU if they have one service-connected disability at 60 percent or greater OR two service-connected disabilities which can combine to reach 70 percent, with one being rated at 40 percent at a minimum.  If a veteran does not meet these criteria, they may be awarded TDIU on an extraschedular basis.

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About the Author

Bio photo of Lisa Ioannilli

Lisa joined CCK in March 2012. Lisa is a Senior Attorney focusing on representing disabled veterans in claims pending before the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

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