January 23, 2003, 08:00:00 AM
WASHINGTON – Based upon a recently released review of scientific studies, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi has decided to extend benefits to Vietnam veterans with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).
“Compelling evidence has emerged within the scientific community that exposure to herbicides such as Agent Orange is associated with CLL,” Principi said. “I’m exercising my legal authority to ensure the full range of VA benefits is available to Vietnam veterans with CLL.”
The ruling means that veterans with CLL who served in Vietnam during the Vietnam War don’t have to prove that illness is related to their military service to qualify for Department of Veterans Affairs disability compensation. Additionally, for more than 20 years, VA has offered special access to medical care to Vietnam veterans with any health problems that may have resulted from Agent Orange exposure, and this decision will ensure higher-priority access to care in the future.
The decision to provide compensation was based upon a recent report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) that found among scientific studies “sufficient evidence of an association" between exposure to herbicides during the Vietnam War and CLL.
The IOM review, conducted at VA's request, was the latest in a series spanning the period since 1993 when the independent, non-governmental agency first published a report for VA that examined thousands of relevant scientific studies on the health effects of various substances to which American servicemembers may have been exposed in Vietnam.
“On the modern battlefield, not all injuries are caused by shrapnel and bullets,” Principi said. “This latest IOM study and my decision to act upon it are the latest examples of VA’s continuing efforts to care for the needs of our combat veterans.”
VA requested the IOM panel of experts to focus on CLL in their report because of veterans' concerns that CLL shares some similarities with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which the IOM had previously connected to Agent Orange exposure.
Principi ordered the development of regulations to enable VA to begin paying compensation benefits once a final rule takes effect. Publication of that regulation is expected in the near future. VA will publish further details, when available, on its Web site at http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/benefits/herbicide/.
In the meantime, veterans with questions about health-care, compensation and survivor benefits may call a toll-free help line at 1-800-749-8387 for information. VA also encourages Vietnam veterans who have not done so to request a subscription to Agent Orange Review, VA's free newsletter that will keep them abreast of developments on this issue and other policies and scientific findings in the future.
Newsletter subscription information is available from the help line number above. Back issues and additional information about Agent Orange are available at another VA Web site at http://www.va.gov/agentorange/.
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