The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit instructed the Veteran’s Administration (VA) to issue within 30 days new rules for paying disability benefits to Vietnam veterans stricken with ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, or B-cell leukemias after a request filed by the United Spinal Association/VetsFirst; the National Veterans Legal Services Program; the Paralyzed Veterans of America; and the Non-Commissioned Officers Association.
The rules impact an estimated 200,000 Vietnam veterans who suffer from one of the three Agent Orange-related diseases or their survivors, according to a press release.
The unanimous three-judge panel said the VA must publish final rules on the three diseases in the Federal Register within 30 days. The VA claimed it could not issue the rules by the original June 23 deadline set by an act of Congress, because it was waiting for the Office of Management and Budget to review them.
For many veterans and survivors, the date that VA rules are published has an impact on the amount of financial benefits they will receive. If a Vietnam veteran or survivor files a claim before VA publishes the rules on the three diseases, they are eligible for benefits retroactive to the date the claim is filed.
By law, veterans who file after the rules are published, receive benefits retroactive to the effective date of the regulation. For every month that publication is delayed, these veterans and survivors lose a month of benefits.
The VA estimates that as many as 150,000 Vietnam veterans and survivors have yet to file their paperwork. The veterans organizations believe the publication of rules in 30 days will likely result in a flood of additional VA claims.
“We urge all veterans and their survivors who have been affected by Agent Orange-related diseases to apply as soon as possible to take advantage of the retroactive benefits available to them,” Paul J. Tobin, president and chief executive officer of United Spinal Association, stated in the release. “This court decision will improve the quality of life of many individuals who have been suffering for far too long, but it’s vital that veterans file now before the rules are published.”