Below is a memo issued on May 31, 2021 by U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough.
Today, I announced two very important decisions that will affect millions of Veterans who served in the Vietnam War and in Southwest Asia, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan during the Persian Gulf War and after September 11, 2001. It is important to note that the process by which these decisions were made is just the first step; this will be an iterative, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)-driven process to identify potential presumptions of service connection.
Many of our Nation’s Veterans have waited a long time for changes to presumptions of service connection for benefits, and I look forward to working with the VA Toxic Exposure team to implement changes such as the following as swiftly as possible.
The first decision concerns the addition of bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinsonism to the list of those conditions presumptively associated with exposure to Agent Orange. This implements provisions of the William M. Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (P.L. 116-283), and 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 era.
Vietnam-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 and will receive a letter from VAon the status of their claim.
The second decision involves Veterans who served in Southwest Asia, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan during the Persian Gulf War and after September 11, 2001. After a thorough review of the scientific evidence around toxic exposures, including the report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, I am directing initiation of rulemaking to consider creating presumptions of service connection for chronic respiratory conditions associated with exposure to airborne hazards during military service in Southwest Asia, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan during the covered periods of conflict, which may include asthma, sinusitis and rhinitis. Our approach to this process will be holistic, and we will base our decision on science, in fulfilling our responsibility to Veterans who may have suffered disability due to their service.
These decisions will affect millions of Veterans and families, and I encourage everyone in VA to always keep in mind the tremendous impact that we will be making in their health and quality of life as we go through these processes. I look forward to working with you as we further our goal of improving the lives of all Veterans.
For more information, please go here: Airborne Hazards and Burn Pit Exposures – Public Health.