by Jim Pedersen, VSO & Director of Moore County Veterans Service Office

The Veterans Administration considers some health conditions and diseases to be “presumptive conditions.” In other words, these issues did not result from a specific injury during active service but result from exposure to chemicals, toxic substances, environmental conditions or other situations. Presumptive conditions affect large numbers of veterans who were stationed at specific locations and during certain times and may develop years after these individuals separated from service. Illnesses that resulted from Agent Orange in Vietnam are one example of presumptive conditions. 

As with all VA disability claims, a veteran seeking a disability on a presumptive illness needs an honorable discharge and must show a connection between their military service and the health condition from which they suffer. Veterans must establish proof that they were in the area of concern during the correct time frame in order to have a valid claim. 

Our office has processed many claims for veterans who were exposed to radiation during WWII, Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, former Prisoners of War and Gulf War Veterans exposed to numerous toxins. Since the VA expanded Agent Orange presumptive conditions to include Blue Water veterans, we are seeing an increase in claims from veterans who were stationed on ships in the waters around Vietnam. However, there are other groups of veterans who may also suffer from qualifying presumptive conditions which are not as widely known.  

POWs 

Former Prisoners of War who were detained for more than 30 days may be awarded benefits for many presumptive diseases and conditions at any time following their discharge from active duty. The list of approved conditions is lengthy and includes mental disorders, physical disorders such as stroke, heart disease, arthritis, cirrhosis of the liver, and digestive disorders including chronic dysentery, irritable bowel disease, peptic ulcer disease and malnutrition. 

Camp Lejeune Water Contamination 

The VA recognizes a presumptive service connection for certain diseases associated with two on-base water supply systems which were contaminated with the volatile organic compounds trichloroethylene (TCE), a metal degreaser; perchloroethylene (PCE), a dry-cleaning agent; benzene; and vinyl chloride. To be eligible for a presumptive service connection, veterans must have served at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, and later developed one of the following eight conditions: 

  • Adult leukemia 
  • Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes 
  • Bladder cancer 
  • Kidney cancer 
  • Liver cancer 
  • Multiple myeloma 
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma 
  • Parkinson’s disease 

Gulf War Veterans 

Gulf War Veterans who served in the Southwest Asia theater in Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, U.A.E. and Oman as well as the Gulf of Aden and Gulf of Oman, the waters of the Persian Gulf, Arabian sea and Red Sea and the airspace above these locations may also be eligible for disability based on presumptive conditions. These include functional gastrointestinal disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and other undiagnosed illnesses, cardiovascular disease, muscle and joint pain and headaches. Compensation is based on whether the condition: 

Started while the veteran was on active duty before Dec. 31, 2016; 

Caused veteran to be ill for at least six months; 

Qualified veteran for a disability rating of 10% or more; 

Was caused only by service in the Southwest Asia theater of operations. 

The VA considers the following to be presumed disabilities: 

  • Burcellosis 
  • Campylobacter jejuni 
  • Coxiella burnetiid (Q Fever) 
  • Nontyphoid salmonella 
  • Shigella 
  • West Nile Virus 

Burn Pit Exposure: 

Veterans who deployed as contingency operations in the Southwest Asia theater, Afghanistan or Djibouti may be at risk of health problems as a result of exposure to open burn pits. The VA is monitoring veteran exposure to these hazards in order to determine if future action is needed. 

Health conditions associated with burn pit exposure vary depending on several factors, such as the type of waste being burned, pre-existing conditions and wind direction. Affected veterans are encouraged to report exposures to airborne hazards such as smoke from burn pits, oil-well fires or pollution during deployment, as well as other exposures and health concerns, to the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry at www.veteran.mobilehealth.va.gov/AHBurnPitRegistry. 

The registry is open to any veteran or service member who served in: 

OEF/OIF/OND or in Djibouti, Africa, after Sept. 11, 2001; 

Operation Desert Shield or Operation Desert Storm or the Southwest Asia theater of operations after Aug. 2, 1990; 

Veterans who are experiencing symptoms they feel are caused by exposure to burn pits should seek VA medical help. Veterans who are already enrolled in VA healthcare should talk to their primary care provider. Those who are not enrolled in VA health care should contact an Environmental Health Coordinator at their nearest VA medical center.  

Veterans who wish to file a disability claim for a presumptive condition may call the Moore County Veterans Service office to talk with an accredited Veterans Service Officer. The office at 905 Pinehurst Ave., Carthage, is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Appointments are required and may be made by calling 910-947-3257.  

VSO Jim Pedersen, right, is the director of the Moore County Veterans Service Office. Experienced nationally-certified VSOs Kelly Greene, and Robert “Bob” Hall, a Vietnam-era veteran who retired from the Army after 30 years of service, assist Moore County veterans with their disability claims.