Disability Compensation for Agent Orange for Vietnam Veterans

Vietnam vets can get disability compensation for some diseases many years after exposure to Agent Orange.

By , Attorney · Northeastern University School of Law

Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam while on active duty are eligible for disability compensation through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as long as they were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.

It is often very difficult to produce evidence that an illness is linked to Agent Orange exposure. As a result, for many years veterans with Agent Orange-related diseases were denied disability compensation by the VA. This changed in 1991.

Presumptive Service Connection

Presumptive service connection is a much easier way to qualify for compensation than having to prove a direct service connection. This is because, for presumptive service connection, you don't have to prove an incident of exposure of Agent Orange or that your disease was caused by Agent Orange. If you have certain diseases, the VA "presumes" both Agent Orange exposure and that this exposure caused the disease, as long as there isn't medical evidence that something else caused your illness.

Due to the Agent Orange Act of 1991, the VA now acknowledges certain cancers and other diseases as caused by Agent Orange. This means that veterans with these recognized diseases can qualify for disability compensation under "presumptive service connection." However, many special rules apply.

How to Qualify for Agent Orange Presumptive Service Connection

To qualify, a veteran must show:

  • military service in Vietnam during the period of January 9, 1962 to May 7, 1975
  • current diagnosis of:

    • one of the diseases, or residuals of one of the diseases, that the VA recognizes as linked to Agent Orange exposure (see below)
    • the recognized disease is rated at least 10% or higher, and
    • for certain diseases, the illness developed within a certain time period after the last day of service in Vietnam.

Service in Vietnam Requirement

You must be able to prove that you set foot on land in Vietnam, no matter how briefly, or that you served on the inland waterways of Vietnam. If you flew over Vietnam but did not land there, you cannot qualify.

Veterans who served in waters offshore Vietnam without ever visiting the inland waterways or stepping foot on land have great difficulty obtaining a presumptive service connection for Agent Orange. These veterans are referred to as "blue water veterans." To see if your ship is recognized as having landed in Vietnam or traveled on the inland waterways, check the VA page for ships in Vietnam.

There is a special rule permitting presumptive service connection for certain diseases based merely service in Vietnam without a requirement of stepping foot on land. This allows blue water veterans to be eligible for presumptive service connections for those conditions:

  • non-Hodgkins lymphoma
  • chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and
  • small-cell lymphocytic lymphoma.

Current Diagnosis Requirement

In addition to meeting the military service requirement, you must also be diagnosed with one of the illnesses the VA recognizes as being linked to Agent Orange exposure.

Eligible for Benefits Only if Disease Arises in a Certain Time Frame. Some diseases must have developed within certain time periods after leaving service for a veteran to qualify for presumptive service connection.

These diseases include:

  • peripheral neuropathy (acute or subacute), which must have appeared within twelve months after exposure to Agent Orange and be cured within two years after the first appearance of symptoms
  • chloracne, which must have appeared within one year after exposure to Agent Orange, and
  • porphyria cutanea tarda, which must have manifested itself within one year after exposure to Agent Orange.
In addition, these diseases must be rated 10% or more disabling during the required time frame. To prove this, the veteran will have to provide medical evidence that doesn't have to show a diagnosis necessarily, but that must show symptoms of the claimed illness.

Eligible for Benefits Whenever Disease Arises. For some diseases, no matter when the illness first developed, even if it is many years after military service, the veteran is eligible for presumptive service connection. This is true for some soft tissue sarcomas, all chronic B-cell leukemias, ischemic heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and many other cancers and diseases.

Visit the VA website to learn about all the currently recognized diseases associated with Agent Orange. New diseases are added periodically to this least based on research from the Institute of Medicine. Even if your disease isn't on this list and you don't think you have the evidence you need to prove your claim, still apply. That way, if your disease later gets recognized, you will have preserved an early effective date for benefits and will get a larger lump sum payment.

How to Apply for Benefits Due to Agent Orange Exposure

You can use the Agent Orange Fast Track Processing System if you are applying for disability compensation for the first time for any of the following conditions:

  • multiple myeloma
  • prostate cancer
  • B-Cell leukemias including hairy cell
  • Parkinson's disease
  • ischemic heart disease
  • Hodgkin's disease
  • chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or
  • non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

If you applying for compensation for Agent Orange illnesses not listed above, or if have submitted a previous application for benefits due to the above conditions, then you will need to apply through your local VA office or online. For more information, see our article on how to apply for VA benefits.

What if My Disease Isn't Recognized as Linked to Agent Orange?

If you are not eligible for presumptive service connection under the above requirements, you can still apply for disability benefits based on direct service connection.

You can establish direct service connection by:

  • proving exposure to Agent Orange while on active military duty
  • showing medical evidence of a current disability, and
  • having medical evidence linking the current disability to Agent Orange.

Also, periodically check VA's list of diseases related to Agent Orange to see if your disease has been added; the VA adds new diseases to the list based on medical research from the Institute of Medicine.

Other Benefits

For other benefits available to veterans exposed to Agent Orange, and their families, visit the VA webpage Benefits Overview for Agent Orange Illnesses.

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