Processing of Retroactive Agent Orange Claims Nearly Complete

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 19, 2012

Processing of Retroactive Agent Orange Claims Nearly Complete

Milestone Allows VA to Refocus 1,200 Decision Makers on Claims Backlog

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs announced that nearly 230,000 claims have already been processed for the three newest Agent-Orange related conditions through June 2012, including over 150,000 claims required to be adjudicated under the order of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Nehmer v. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  The near completion of these complex Nehmer claims enables VA to redirect 1,200 employees who were dedicated to reviewing the Agent Orange cases toward addressing the current backlog of disability claims.

“I am proud of our VA employees who worked hard to complete these Agent Orange claims, putting over $3.6 billion into the hands of our Vietnam Veterans and their survivors,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.  “We completed all of the Agent Orange Nehmer claims for living Veterans, and are now focusing on the fewer than 500 remaining that will benefit survivors.”

The Agent Orange claims stemmed from VA’s 2010 amendment of its regulations to add ischemic heart disease, hairy cell and other chronic B-cell leukemias, and Parkinson’s disease to the list of diseases presumed to be related to exposure to the herbicide used in Southeast Asia.

“While we work to transform how we do business through new processes and technology, at the end of the day it’s about taking care of our Veterans and their loved ones on the issues affecting their lives,” said Secretary Shinseki.

Given the complexity of the historical casework, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) allocated its most experienced decision makers, about 37 percent of its rating staff, to processing Agent Orange claims.  VBA’s 13 resource centers were exclusively dedicated to re-adjudicating these claims.

Even with this allocation of 37 percent of the rating staff dedicated to Agent Orange claims, VA processed over 1 million disability claims in each of the last 2 years, an unprecedented number. “Incoming claims over the last ten years have nearly doubled,” said VA Under Secretary for Benefits, Allison A. Hickey.  “Being able to refocus these skilled raters on the backlog is vitally important.”

In addition to redirecting its rating staff, VA has developed a comprehensive transformation plan to achieve in 2015 Secretary Shinseki’s goal of completing claims within 125 days at 98 percent accuracy.  The plan is built on more than 40 designed, tested, and measured people, processing, and technology initiatives.  VA is now beginning the nationwide rollout of its new operating model and electronic processing system, known as the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS).  All regional offices will be operating under the new model and using the new processing system by the end of 2013.

VA has established a website, www.fastrack.va.gov, to assist Veterans in filing claims for the three new conditions related to the effects of Agent Orange exposure.  It guides Veterans through automated, program-assisted menus to capture the information and medical evidence needed for faster claims decision.    Potentially eligible Veterans include those who were exposed based on duty or visitation in Vietnam or on its inland waterways between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975; exposed along the demilitarized zone in Korea between April 1, 1968, and August 31, 1971; or exposed due to herbicide tests and storage at military bases within and outside of the United States.

 

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Agent Orange Update

American Heart Month
Were you exposed to herbicides during military service and have ischemic heart disease? You may qualify for VA benefits. Find out more, and protect your heart. Visit www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange to learn more about Agent Orange and VA benefits. The website has been newly designed to make finding information easier.  

VFW Washington Weekly February 3, 2012

VFW Washington Weekly
February 3, 2012

In This Issue:
1. White House Announces Vets Job Corps
2. Retirement Changes Threaten All-Volunteer Force
3. VA Adds 47 Ships to Agent Orange List
4. Physical Disability Board Review Update
5. Family Caregiver Support Could Expand
6. House VA Committee Hearings
7. VA Acquisitions Internship Available
8. Overseas Absentee Voting Improves
9. MIA Recoveries to Resume in North Korea

1. White House Announces Vets Job Corps: VFW was front and center when the President announced a Veterans Job Corps initiative aimed at helping veterans find pathways to employment. Some of the initiatives include grants to communities that recruit and hire veterans to serve as police, firefighters and other first responders. The program also includes additional support for veterans’ entrepreneurship and intensive reemployment services for Post 9/11 veterans. Said VFW National Commander Richard DeNoyer, “There is no initiative too bold when it comes to helping veterans get jobs, especially with the new generation of post-9/11 warriors now reentering society in numbers not seen since the Vietnam War. Our nation and her public and private employer partners must do everything possible to not only ensure their smooth transition, but to enlist their extraordinary talents to help serve and protect our nation and communities, and to help restore our economy to greatness. We thank President Obama for continuing to move the issue of veterans’ employment forward, and for his strong commitment to those who have worn the uniform and to their families.” Read more on the White House website at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/02/03/president-obama-s-plan-put-veterans-back-work, and on the VFW blog at http://www.vfwonthehill.org/2012/02/vfw-applauds-presidential-jobs.html

2. Retirement Changes Threaten All-Volunteer Force: In an opinion editorial just posted on the Stars & Stripes website, VFW National Commander Richard DeNoyer is very concerned that negative qualify-of-life changes on a military still at war will destroy the all-volunteer force. He said constantly comparing civilian programs with military pay, retirement and health care plans — while calling the military programs “too generous” — is insulting, and so is any proposal that requires those who sacrifice the most for our nation to sacrifice even more. He said the VFW opposes all plans to change the military retirement system, and “we reject any proposal that would require military retirees to pay more for their earned healthcare programs.” Read his OpEd at http://www.stripes.com/vfw-retirement-changes-could-hurt-recruitment-1.167633.

3. VA Adds 47 Ships to Agent Orange List: The VA has added 47 vessels to its list of Navy and Coast Guard ships whose crews may have been exposed to the defoliant Agent Orange. Former service members who served aboard these “blue water” ships as well as the more than 200 others listed in VA’s database from 1962 to 1975 may be eligible for disability compensation. According to The Military Times, vessels recently added to the roster include the hospital ship Repose, which operated in close coastal waters from 1966 to 1970, and the transport ship General R.M. Blatchford, which landed elements of the 1st Infantry Division at Vung Tau in October 1965. Read more at http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/shiplist/index.asp.

4. Physical Disability Board Review Update: Congress established a Physical Disability Board Review (PDBR) in 2008 to review disability determinations of veterans discharged between September 11, 2001, and December 31, 2009. Those with a combined disability rating of 20 percent or less who did not retire can apply for a review. Since the programs creation, only 5 percent of those eligible have applied to have their status reviewed. DOD is partnering with VA to reach out to others to notify them about the PDBR by sending letters to veterans this year. While the collaboration will help ensure that veterans have access to their benefits, eligible veterans can also directly contact the PDBR immediately through their website. We also ask you share this information with everyone you know. For more, go to http://www.health.mil/About_MHS/Organizations/MHS_Offices_and_Programs/PDBR/pdbr-faqs.aspx.

5. Family Caregiver Support Could Expand: First Lady Michelle Obama announced this week a series of measures intended to increase the nation’s support for the caregivers of wounded, ill and injured service members by expanding military family leave protections under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The proposals will, in part:
* Extend the 26-week unpaid leave entitlement to family members caring for recent veterans with a serious injury or illness incurred in the line of duty, including conditions that may arise up to five years after leaving the military;
*        Allow family members to take time off from work before, during or after a spouse, child or parent’s deployment to tend to service-related matters, such as military briefings or making financial and legal arrangements; and
* Increase the amount of time an employee may take to spend with a loved one who is on rest or recuperation leave from five days to up to 15 days.
Read more at http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=66983.

6. House VA Committee Hearings: The House Veterans Affairs Committee held two hearings this week to focus on VA pharmacy contracts and another on employment for Guard and Reservists.
*     On Wednesday, the full committee discussed VA pharmaceutical contracting practices after a VA Inspector General report revealed that the VA did not follow their own standard purchasing practices. Committee members asked heated questioned about the procedures and policies in purchasing drugs and who is being held accountable. They also discussed what fixes are being made and how will it affect the care provided to veterans. VA Representatives openly admitted that violations took place, but that changes have been implemented to fix the deficiencies. Subpoenas have been requested for all documents and communications from VA related to the issue by the committee. Committee Chairman, Jeff Miller (R-FL) said the committee plans to continue strict oversight on the issue and intends to hold senior officials accountable. Read more at http://www.vfwonthehill.org/2012/02/house-committee-questions-va-on.html.
*     On Thursday, the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a hearing entitled “Lowering the Unemployment Rate for National Guard.” Witnesses representing various State National Guard programs, the Department of Labor’s Veterans Employment and Training, VetJobs, as well as the Manufacturing Institute, all discussed ways to combat the troubling unemployment numbers. Initiatives and policies like mandatory Transition Assistance Programs for all Guard and Reservists and changes to USERRA were mentioned to maximize employment opportunities. Read more at http://www.vfwonthehill.org/2012/02/watch-live-house-to-address.html.

7. VA Acquisitions Internship Available: The VA last week launched an acquisition internship to prepare newly-returned veterans to become federal contracting specialists. Called “Warriors to Workforce,” the internship is a three-year program where participants will earn the 24 educational credits in business required to become contracting professionals. The program includes courses in leadership, technical acquisition training and on-the-job experience. Graduates will have taken the required coursework to earn a Federal Acquisitions Certification in Contracting, which is recognized throughout the federal sector as evidence of solid education in the career field. Successful graduates will be eligible for contract specialist positions at the GS-11 level. Read more about VA’s Acquisitions Academy at www.acquisitionacademy.va.gov.

8. Overseas Absentee Voting Improves: Last year, 18 states were noncompliant with the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act. The number now is four, according to a new Pew Center on the States report.  The four states in noncompliance are Alaska, California, New York and West Virginia. The primary reason is they have not changed state laws to adhere to the 45-day window for mailing and receiving absentee ballots from overseas-assigned military and other U.S. citizens stationed or residing in foreign countries. Getting those four states to adhere to the provisions of the MOVE Act would fulfill VFW Resolution #416, which was passed at last year’s 112th VFW National Convention in San Antonio. Read the Pew report at http://www.pewcenteronthestates.org/uploadedFiles/Pew_Democracy_From_Afar.pdf.

9. MIA Recoveries to Resume in North Korea: After a seven-absence due to security concerns, Joint POW/MIA Action Accounting Command teams will be heading back into North Korea this spring to search for the remains of missing Americans from the Korean War. The teams are scheduled to work in two areas: Unsan County, about 60 miles north of Pyongyang; and near the Chosin/Jangjin Reservoir, where more than 2,000 soldiers and Marines are believed to be missing. Of approximately 83,000 Americans missing since World War II, almost 8,000 are from the Korean War—with about 5,500 of them believed to be in North Korea. The resumption of recovery operations in North Korea fulfills VFW Resolution #423, which was passed at last year’s 112th VFW National Convention in San Antonio. Read more at http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=66958.

 
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More Ships Added to VA’s Vietnam Ship List


VA has updated the list of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships that operated in Vietnam, adding 47 more vessels and expanding information for others. The list can help Vietnam-era Veterans find out if they qualify for presumption of Agent Orange exposure when seeking VA disability compensation for herbicide-related diseases.

To learn more about other public health topics, visit the Public Health homepage at www.publichealth.va.gov.   

VA Posts Online List of Ships Associated with Presumptive Agent Orange Exposure


WASHINGTON – Veterans who served aboard U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships operating on the waters of Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, may be eligible to receive Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation for 14 medical conditions associated with presumptive exposure to Agent Orange. 

An updated list of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships confirmed to have operated on Vietnam’s inland waterways, docked on shore, or had crewmembers sent ashore, has been posted at http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/ to assist Vietnam Veterans in determining potential eligibility for compensation benefits. 

“Posting of the ships list is an important recognition of the sacrifices U.S. Navy and Coast Guard Veterans made for this Nation,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.  “It provides an easier path for Veterans who served in Vietnam to get the benefits and services they are entitled to under the law.”

VA presumes herbicide exposure for any Veteran with duty or visitation within the country of Vietnam or on its inland waterways during the Vietnam era.  Comprehensive information about the 14 recognized illnesses under VA’s “presumption” rule for Agent Orange is also located on the webpage.

In practical terms, Veterans with qualifying Vietnam service who develop a disease associated with Agent Orange exposure need not prove a medical link between their illnesses and their military service.  This presumption simplifies and speeds up the application process for benefits. 

For questions about Agent Orange and the online list of ships, Veterans may call VA’s Special Issues Helpline at 1-800-749-8387 and press 3.

When a claim is filed by a Veteran, surviving spouse or child, VA will determine whether the Veteran qualifies for the presumption of exposure based on official records of the ship’s operations.   Ships will be regularly added to the list based on information confirmed in these official records.

Even if a Veteran is not filing a claim, a Veteran may conduct his or her own research and submit scanned documentary evidence such as deck logs, ship histories, and cruise book entries via email to 211_AOSHIPS.VBACO@va.gov.

Service on board ships anchored in an open water harbor, such as Da Nang Harbor, or on ships on other open waters around Vietnam during the war, is not considered sufficient for the presumption of Agent Orange exposure.  For Veterans interested in obtaining deck logs, contact the National Archives at College Park, Md., at http://www.archives.gov/dc-metro/college-park/researcher-info.html.  

The Agent Orange Claims Processing System website located at https://www.fasttrack.va.gov/AOFastTrack/ may be used to submit claims related to the three conditions added to the list of Agent Orange presumptives last year (Parkinson’s disease, hairy cell and other chronic B-cell leukemias, and ischemic heart disease). 

This website makes it easy to electronically file a claim and allows Veterans and their physicians to upload evidence supporting the claim.  It also permits online viewing of claim status. 

Veterans claiming other conditions may file online at VA’s My-eBenefits web site at: https://www.ebenefits.va.gov/ebenefits-portal/ebenefits.portal.  They can check the status of their claim with a premium account (confirming their identity), and use a growing number of online services. 

Servicemembers may enroll in My-eBenefits using their Common Access Card at any time during their military service, or before they leave during their Transition Assistance Program briefings. 

Veterans may also enroll through their myPay or MyHealtheVet accounts, by visiting their local VA regional office or Veteran Service Organization, or by calling 1-800-827-1000.