WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 26, 2010) -- The more than 100,000 veterans exposed to herbicides while serving in Vietnam and other combat areas will have an easier path to qualify for disability pay under a proposed regulation published by the Department of Veterans Affairs that adds three new illnesses to the list of health problems found to be related to Agent Orange and other herbicide exposures.

"This is an important step forward for Vietnam veterans suffering from these three illnesses," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "These warriors deserve medical care and compensation for health problems they have incurred."

The regulation follows Shinseki's October 2009 decision to add the three illnesses to the current list of diseases for which service connection for Vietnam veterans is presumed. The illnesses are B cell leukemias, such as hairy cell leukemia; Parkinson's disease; and ischemic heart disease.

Shinseki's decision is based on the latest evidence of an association with widely used herbicides such as Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, as determined in an independent study by the Institute of Medicine.

Even though this is a proposed rule, VA encourages Vietnam Veterans with these three diseases to submit their applications for compensation now so the agency can begin development of their claims and so they can receive benefits from the date of their applications once the rule becomes final.

Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted over the next 30 days. The final regulation will be published after consideration of all comments received.

"We must do better reviews of illnesses that may be connected to service, and we will," Shinseki added. "Veterans who endure health problems deserve timely decisions based on solid evidence."

More than 80,000 of the veterans will have their past claims reviewed and may be eligible for retroactive payment, and all who are not currently eligible for enrollment into the VA health-care system will become eligible.

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military used more than 19 million gallons of herbicides for defoliation and crop destruction in the Republic of Vietnam. Veterans who served in Vietnam anytime during the period beginning Jan. 9, 1962, and ending on May 7, 1975, are presumed to have been exposed to herbicides.

Used in Vietnam to defoliate trees and remove concealment for the enemy, Agent Orange and other herbicides left a legacy of suffering and disability that continues to the present.

The new rule will bring the number of illnesses presumed to be associated with herbicide exposure to 14, and significantly expand the current leukemia definition to include a much broader range of leukemias beyond chronic lymphocytic leukemia previously recognized by VA.

In practical terms, Veterans who served in Vietnam during the war and who have a "presumed" illness don't have to prove an association between their illnesses and their military service. This "presumption" simplifies and speeds up the application process for benefits.

Other illnesses previously recognized under VA's "presumption" rule as being caused by exposure to herbicides during the Vietnam War are:

Aca,!Ac AL Amyloidosis,
Aca,!Ac Acute and Subacute Transient Peripheral Neuropathy,
Aca,!Ac Chloracne or other Acneform Disease consistent with Chloracne,
Aca,!Ac Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, (now being expanded)
Aca,!Ac Diabetes Mellitus (Type 2),
Aca,!Ac Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma,
Aca,!Ac Porphyria Cutanea Tarda,
Aca,!Ac Prostate Cancer,
Aca,!Ac Respiratory Cancers (Cancer of the lung, bronchus, larynx, or trachea), and
Aca,!Ac Soft Tissue Sarcoma (other than Osteosarcoma, Chondrosarcoma, Kaposi's sarcoma, or Mesothelioma).

Additional information about Agent Orange and VA's services for veterans exposed to the chemical are available at www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange.