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 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.
To qualify, a veteran must show:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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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