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New VA Program Should Speed and Simplify Process for Agent Orange VeteransSalem-News.com Staff Report
VCS Endorses VA's Bold Action to Reduce Claim Backlog.
(WASHINGTON D.C.) - A reprieve this week for veterans of the Vietnam War suffering from exposure to the chemical defoliant Agent Orange. Tuesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs said it will begin automating part of the cumbersome system that has resulted in so many thousands of veterans waiting for years, sometimes until the end of their lives, for compensation from their war injuries.
A Chicago Tribune article cites how this 80-year old federal agency is close to being overwhelmed by the volume of claims from Vietnam veterans and also Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq veterans.
There are still plenty of WWII and Korean War veterans in the system, but only the recent wars have led to such severe toxic contamination among American troops. In each case, we essentially are responsible for harming our own people.
The Agent Orange was sprayed over the heads of troops on patrol in Vietnam. Gulf War Syndrome plagues the generation from the 1991 war in Kuwait and Iraq, the same country where in recent years, Americans have stood guard over highly toxic hexavalent chromium, a problem brought to light by Veterans for Common Sense and discussed at length by Salem-News.com writer Dr. Phil Leveque in March 2009.
The Department of Veterans Affairs says the aggressive new initiative they announced today will solicit private-sector input on the proposed “fast track” Veterans’ claims process for service-connected presumptive illnesses due to Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War.
"This will be a new way of doing business and a major step forward in how we process the presumptive claims we expect to receive over the next two years," Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said.
"With the latest, fastest, and most reliable technology, VA hopes to migrate the manual processing of these claims to an automated process that meets the needs of today’s Veterans in a more timely manner."
Over a million veterans are currently backlogged with the VA. Over the next two years, about 200,000 Veterans are expected to file disability compensation claims under an historic expansion of three new presumptive illnesses announced last year by Secretary Shinseki. They affect Veterans who have Parkinson’s disease, ischemic heart disease and B-cell leukemias. These conditions have all been linked to Agent Orange, manufactured by Monsanto, a company that is behind efforts today to market genetically modified food.
In practical terms, Veterans who served in Vietnam during the war and who have one of the illnesses covered by the "presumption of service connection" don’t have to prove an association between their medical problems and military service. This “presumption” makes it easier for Vietnam Veterans to access disability compensation benefits. Vietnam Veterans are encouraged to submit their claims as soon as possible to begin the important process of compensation.
Along with the publication of proposed regulations for the three new presumptives this spring, VA intends to publish a formal request in Federal Business Opportunities for private-sector corporations to propose automated solutions for the parts of the claims process that take the longest amount of time. VA believes these can be collected in a more streamlined and accurate way.
Development involves determining what additional information is needed to adjudicate the claim, such as military and private medical records and the scheduling of medical examinations.
With this new approach, VA expects to shorten the time it takes to gather evidence, which now takes on average over 90 days. Once the claim is fully developed and all pertinent information is gathered, VA will be able to more quickly decide the claim and process the award, if granted.
The contract is expected to be awarded in April with proposed solutions offered to VA within 90 days. Implementation of the solution is expected within 150 days.
“Veterans whose health was harmed during their military service are entitled to the best this nation has to offer,” added Secretary Shinseki. “We are undertaking an unprecedented modernization of our claims process to ensure timely and accurate delivery of that commitment.”
Last year, VA received more than one million claims for disability compensation and pension. VA provides compensation and pension benefits to over 3.8 million Veterans and beneficiaries. Presently, the basic monthly rate of compensation ranges from $123 to $2,673 to Veterans without any dependents.
Disability compensation is a non-taxable, monthly monetary benefit paid to Veterans who are disabled as a result of an injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated during active military service.
Salem-News.com has three writers who specifically concentrate on the problems generated by Monsanto and Agent Orange. Chuck Palazzo, April Scott and John Paul Rossie all have addressed these issues, and our Dr. Phil Leveque has also written about Agent Orange, as well as numerous other problems that face Veterans. You can write to any of us via the staff page.
This link will take you to a number of our stories relating to Monsanto and Agent Orange: Salem-News.com archive search for Agent Orange
For more information on disability compensation, visit: va.gov
Additional information about Agent Orange and VA’s services and programs for Veterans exposed are available at: publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange.
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