Agent Orange presumption policy leads to higher VA health care use

This post first appeared on VA Research Currents.

For Vietnam Veterans, having a medical condition presumed related to Agent Orange exposure is linked to greater use of Veterans Affairs health care.

That is the main finding of a study by researchers with the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRIISC) at the VA New Jersey Healthcare System. They say the results show that a law passed by Congress nearly 30 years ago has largely met its goal: helping affected Veterans get the care they need.

The study results appeared in May 2018 in the journal Medicine.     

Agent Orange linked to 14 conditions

Agent Orange is a chemical defoliant that was sprayed by the U.S. during the Vietnam War to kill plants and clear land. It was contaminated with dioxin, which is known to cause cancer and other conditions. Twenty million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed during the Vietnam War. About 2.7 million U.S. military personnel may have been exposed.

Veterans are eligible for compensation from the Veterans Benefits Administration if they have a service-connected disability. The higher the disability rating, the more compensation they are due. Veterans with higher service-connected disability ratings also have greater access to no-cost health care through the Veterans Health Administration. However, it is often difficult to prove direct service connection for Agent Orange-related conditions because they may develop years after exposure.

To address this problem, Congress passed the Agent Orange Act of 1991. The act directed VA to presume service-connected disability for