Denied. That has to be the scariest word for many disabled veterans after filing a claim for disability benefits. Unfortunately, appealing that denial could take your lifetime.
Recently, five veterans were denied a right to appeal in the Federal Circuit, the highest court before the Supreme Court for these claims. These five veterans filed an appeal back in 1979 based on the Veterans Administration publication regulating Agent Orange (AO) disability compensation. In its opinion, the Circuit said that it lacked the appropriate jurisdiction over the Administrative Agency because no one had jurisdiction over it prior to 1988. In a bit of a loophole, the guidelines used by the VA at that time were unpublished, which aided the VA’s claim that there was no oversight when the decision was first made.
The issue the veterans were appealing was the basic denial of the VA of all conditions that resulted from AO exposure other than “chloracne.” Chloracne is a type of skin deformity caused by exposure to certain toxic chemicals. This was the position mandated by the VA at that time:
“Except for a skin condition known as chloracne, there are presently no firm data to incriminate herbicides as causative agents of any other known category of disease or chronic symptom. However, a contaminant Dioxin, found in small quantities in defoliants is toxic.”
The actual list of disorders resulting from AO exposure ranges from cancer to birth defects to Parkinson’s disease. Between 1962 and 1971, the U.S. dumped at least 20 million gallons of Agent Orange type herbicides into Vietnam and surrounding areas. Anyone exposed to the chemicals may have lifelong diseases or disabilities as a result. For that reason, the VA recently developed a more robust approach to treating and compensating these veterans, especially when compared to what was in place in the 1970’s. The program and policy includes a specific compensation program directed right at AO exposed veterans.
Thankfully, our country is not nearly as ignorant as it was back then, but the court system seems unable to remedy early denials that were based on information grossly out of touch with scientific realities.
Again, Vietnam era veterans were at least “fortunate” enough to have the VA finally admit that AO caused the injuries and diseases it actually causes. But unfortunately for these five veterans, the VA and the U.S. Judiciary are still claiming an inability to right a wrong committed over 30 years ago.
At least the VA currently pays in large part for healthcare benefits while veterans battle with it to make the VA acknowledge that their injuries or diseases are similarly service related. Let’s hope it stays that way.