VA Will Provide Presumptive Disability Coverage to Vets with Respiratory Cancers
Veterans who have developed any number of nine rare cancers associated with burn pits will no longer have to prove that their conditions were caused during their service overseas.
The Veterans Affairs Department announced Monday that beginning this week, it will add nine rare respiratory cancers associated with burn pits to the list of disabilities that are covered on a presumptive basis.
The department said it will publish an interim final rule Tuesday implementing the policy change, which follows through on a promise mentioned in President Biden’s State of the Union address last month. The rule will extend a “presumption of service connection” to the cancers, meaning veterans will no longer have to prove that their condition was caused by a specific instance when they were exposed to a burn pit in order to qualify for disability and health care benefits.
“We’re going to continue moving ahead with the utmost urgency on this, and that means bringing to process these claims as soon as the rule is published tomorrow, because I know many of you have been waiting far too long for these benefits,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough at a news conference Monday. “And now, hopefully, you need not wait any longer. President Biden is the first president to proactively address particulate exposure for the vets who have fought our wars for the past 30 years, and with his leadership, we will stop at nothing to get all vets the exposure benefits and care they deserve.”
Among the cancers added to the list of conditions where veterans need not prove specific incidents of particulate exposure are: squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx and trachea; adenocarcinoma of the trachea; salivary gland-type tumors of the trachea; adenosquamous carcinoma of the lung; large cell carcinoma of the lung; salivary gland-type tumors of the lung; sarcomatoid carcinoma of the lung; and typical and atypical carcinoid of the lung. The new policy applies to veterans who served any amount of time in the Southwest Asia theater of operations between Aug. 2, 1990 and the present, as well as in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Syria or Djibouti between Sept. 19, 2001 and the present.
In addition to improved medical care, the policy change could also relieve some veterans of their medical debt and boost assistance they can receive for job training and housing. McDonough encouraged veterans to file disability benefit claims and said that the department will revisit past claims that were rejected over a lack of evidence. New claims can be filed at VA.gov/disability, while supplemental claims requesting a review of past denials can be made at VA.gov/decision-reviews.
The move comes less than a week after the Labor Department announced a similar policy change to expedite the processing and approval of workers compensation claims for federal firefighters. Similar to veterans’ conditions stemming from burn pits, on-the-job exposure to chemicals and smoke are linked to an array of chronic lung and heart conditions experienced by firefighters, but the nature of these illnesses, often not manifesting until years later, made it difficult to prove they were caused by a specific incident for the purposes of qualifying for benefits.