When we finally got on that freedom bird and were wheels up heading back to the world, we all took a big sigh of relief. Little did we know then that many of our brothers would die from AO exposure many years after we thought we were out of harms way. Some impacts were soon, birth defects, miscarrages,, etc. While others have taken decades to manifest themselves in our population. I want to urge any of you who have not yet registered with the VA as an Agent Orange exposed vet to do so at your first opportunity. The VA is keeping an Agent Orange registry and providing an AO assessment and physical exam to all vets on the registry. The AO program continues to evolve with many illnesses considered presumptive. That means if you are diagnosed with one of these, (typeII diabetes, Parkinsons, respritory cancers, prostate cancer, several other cancers, ALS, and others, this list is continually evolving so take a look on VA's website to keep up to date on new illnesses added to the list), you do not have to prove AO caused them to receive treatment and benefits. You must first, however, be in the system, and unfortunately, if you wait till you are diagnosed with some of these you will probably be dead before you can navigate the process. There is no earnings restriction for this and an AO exam can be scheduled yearly once you are in the system.
With that being said getting through the VA red tape is not so easy. One of the most entertaining questions I was asked was "can you prove you were"boots on the ground" in VietNam?" My reply was "you are the guys who sent me, don't you know?" Seems the VA does not communicate with Military Records, that's your job. Interestingly enough, my DD214 does not say I was in VN, only that I was overseas for 1 year and 1 day. So I had to dig through my junk till I finally found something to prove I was there. Make sure you have documentation, DD214, orders, records, or something that can verify your VN service. Our brother is a wizard with paperwork and I am sure he will be glad to help you if needed. Another suggestion is to locate a Vet advocate near you. Virginia has a Vet Center which is excellent in helping vets navigate through the VA. The VFW and several other groups have these advocates who will help you through the process at no charge.
On one trip to the VA I was given a bunch of papers to fill out for Gulf War vets exposure to oil well smoke??? I explained to the lady I was a VN vet with AO exposure and she insisted that I fill out these forms. After filling in what I could I sent them In and they were returned to me along with the right forms explaining that I had filled out the wrong forms!!!! Again an advocate can help you through these sort of things.
Please don't wait!! And if you are having health problems please contact the VA. Trust me when I say they will not come looking for you. I hope you never to use AO benefits, but if you do you must be in the system.
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