Congressman Tim Ryan Helps Secure Expanded VA Benefits for Veteran Disability Claims for Conditions Related to Agent Orange Exposure
Youngstown, OH — Congressman Tim Ryan (OH-13) today announced expanded Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits related to presumptive conditions associated with Agent Orange and particulate matter exposures during military service in Southwest Asia.
“I wasn’t going to take no for an answer when it came to getting our veterans the benefits they earned related to Agent Orange. I also wasn’t going to take, ‘It could take 18 to 24 months,’ for an answer, either. Today, less than six months after enactment of the NDAA, Vietnam-era veterans will finally begin to get the health care that they deserve,” said Congressman Tim Ryan.
VA will begin implementing provisions of the William M. Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (Public Law 116-283), adding three conditions to the list of those presumptively associated with exposure to herbicide agents, more commonly known as Agent Orange. Those conditions are bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism.
“Many of our Nation’s Veterans have waited a long time for these benefits,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough. “VA will not make them wait any longer. This is absolutely the right thing to do for Veterans and their families.”
VA will apply the provisions of court orders related to Nehmer v. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which may result in an earlier date for entitlement to benefits for Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Vietnam War era Veterans and their survivors, who previously filed and were denied benefits for one of these three new presumptive conditions, will have their cases automatically reviewed without the need to refile a claim. VA will send letters to impacted Veterans and survivors.
Congressman Tim Ryan Timeline:
The William M. Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (Public Law 116-283) became law on January 1st, 2021.
Representative Ryan’s office contacted the VA on January 22, 2021 and impressed upon the agency the importance of promulgating implementing regulations associated with adding the three presumptive conditions to the disability compensation program.
One week later, on January 29, 2021, the VA responded that the promulgation process could take 18 to 24 months to complete. A timeline that would rob thousands of veterans of the benefits they both earned and deserve. Ryan’s office continued to press, noting that the VA had wide discretion in implementing these key provisions of the NDAA. Approximately one week later, on February 2, 2021, the VA indicated they would make a preliminary determination within 30 days.
On February 24, 2021, Secretary of Veterans Affairs promised Ryan’s office an “urgent” review of new rules regarding presumptive benefits status under pressure from Representative Ryan and other Members of Congress.
On March 9, 2021 the VA made a preliminary determination that would need to implement regulations for the new conditions, but “believed certain aspects of the law establishing presumptions for Parkinsonism, bladder cancer, and hypothyroidism could be implemented through policy guidance prior to promulgation of a regulation.” Ryan’s office pressed as to when policy guidance would be issued. Simultaneously, Ryan’s office expressed Ryan’s concerns that Veterans were being denied for claims because they were submitting prior to the issuance of the aforementioned policy guidance.
Not to be deterred, Rep. Ryan’s office signed on to a letter to the Secretary of the VA on March 22, 2021 specifically asking that he expedite the implementation of new benefits to allow Vietnam Veterans suffering from Agent Orange-related illnesses to get disability benefits to which they were previously not entitled.
On April 2, 2021, the VA said they still did not have a timeline for issuing policy guidance. However, under continued pressure from Ryan’s office the VA instructed claims adjudicators to fully develop for the evidence necessary to adjudicate any implicated claim, to include ordering of any examinations for all conditions claimed based on guidance at the time. They also directed that, in situations where the claim can be granted on any other basis, claims adjudicators were to make a decision on the claim.
Finally, on May 27, 2021 the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough said, “VA will not make them wait any longer. This is absolutely the right thing to do for Veterans and their families.” The department will automatically adjudicate previously filed claims and reach out to veterans directly to inform them of their new benefits.
Thanks to enduring pressure by Representative Ryan, a process that could have taken 18 to 24 months took less than six.
For more information, visit our website at Airborne Hazards and Burn Pit Exposures - Public Health (va.gov).