Navigating the VA Decision Process – Hypertension and Agent Orange Benefits for Veterans

The VA has been hesitant to add hypertension to its list of presumptive conditions that automatically qualify veterans for disability benefits. But, research shows a link between Agent Orange exposure and high blood pressure.

Congress is working to force the VA’s hand. And that could make the difference in getting hypertension added to the presumptive list.

How the VA Decision Affects Your Claim

Under the new Veterans Appeals Modernization Act, Veterans have more choices and a faster process for review. But, how the VA reviews a claim can still make all the difference in a decision.

A veteran’s lay evidence is significant and can include statements, testimony, or journal entries describing their symptoms and other experiences. However, veterans should be careful when submitting lay evidence as it may not always be reliable.

Service treatment records (STRs) are vital evidence proving a link between a current disability and an injury or disease shown in service. If STRs show a current disability and nexus with service connection, the benefit will be established.

Presumptive Service Connection

For many diseases, the VA presumes a connection between service and illness. This is a presumptive service connection and is very important for some veterans. Presumptive service connection can be based on where and when you are served and the type of exposure. For example, if you were exposed to chemicals from burn pits, the VA will presume you were exposed to Agent Orange, and you may qualify for benefits.

In addition, the VA decision on hypertension and Agent Orange exposure significantly impacts veterans’ eligibility for compensation and healthcare benefits related to this service-connected condition.

Unfortunately, hypertension has not been added to the list of presumptive conditions. This is why it is essential to have an attorney review all of the evidence, including medical literature, and ensure you submit the proper documents and forms. An attorney has experience reviewing medical evidence and finding the best way to support your claim for presumptive benefits. The firm also knows about the Appeals Modernization Act and how it affects the VA decision process.

Appealing a VA Decision

VA has several different appeal options for veterans unsatisfied with their rating decision or denial letter. These appeal options include choosing a higher-level review, submitting a supplemental claim, or sending the claim directly to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA).

When you submit your decision review request, you must tell the VA that you disagree with their decisions. You do not need to list every reason you disagree in the form, but it can help if you focus on any issues where you think VA made a mistake.

It is also essential to understand that adding new evidence can lengthen the time it takes for the BVA to review your case, which currently averages 550 days (1.5 years). This is why many veterans choose to work with an attorney knowledgeable about this process and can provide guidance on the best route for a practical appeal.

Getting Started

Veterans suffering from high blood pressure should take action. Hypertension is one of the conditions listed as a presumptive illness from Agent Orange exposure, meaning veterans who serve in or around Vietnam may qualify for disability benefits if they are diagnosed with it.

However, the VA still requires a veteran to pass an additional bureaucratic hurdle by showing a direct service connection. This means a veteran must prove that their hypertension was caused or aggravated by Agent Orange exposure.

Outside groups have successfully lobbied in recent years to broaden the list of illnesses presumed to be linked to Agent Orange. Bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism all recently made the presumptive list.

A Congressional act last year also opened the door to Blue Water Navy veterans who served on ships that operated along Vietnam’s waterways. In addition, a new study finds that members of the Army Chemical Corps who handled herbicides in the Vietnam War were more likely to develop hypertension than those who didn’t.

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