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AGENT ORANGE WIN FOR VETS FUNDS AWARDED DIABETES, CANCER SUFFERERS.

Byline: Staff and Wire Services

Vietnam veterans suffering from diabetes and prostate cancer after being exposed to Agent Orange won a round Monday in their battle against the federal government.

A federal appeals court ruled that the Department of Veterans Affairs must pay retroactive disability payments to thousands of Vietnam vets. The disability payments must date to when veterans initially applied for benefits under a law that allowed them to do so beginning Sept. 25, 1985.

Because of a complicated rule-making procedure, the government said the prostate cancer victims could not receive benefits until Nov. 7, 1996, if they filed a claim after Jan. 4, 1994. The appeals court nullified that government interpretation, which affects an estimated 1,200 veterans, said Barton F. Stichman, executive director of the National Veterans Legal Services Program.

``There have been a laundry list of complaints that have been tagged over the years as related to Agent Orange ... These two were late getting onto the list,'' said Dr. Ronald Hamm, who is in charge of the process that evaluates Agent Orange claimants at the VA West Los Angeles Health Care Center.

Hamm said the facility examines about 10 patients a week with complaints they attribute to Agent Orange. About 20 percent of those involve Type 2 diabetes, and only about five cases each year involve prostate cancer. He said the small number of prostate cancer cases was probably because most Vietnam veterans haven't reached the age when men are likely to contract the disease.

Also undermined by the ruling was the government's position that veterans suffering from adult onset diabetes could not get benefits until July 9, 2001, if they filed a claim between Jan. 4, 1994, and July 9, 2001, Stichman said.

``All I can tell you is for the last 20 years the VA has dragged its feet on the Agent Orange issue. They try every way they can to come up with theories to why they shouldn't give benefits,'' Stichman said.

He estimated that 30,000 Vietnam veterans with adult onset diabetes were denied full benefits.

His suit on behalf of Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange first was filed in 1986. Three years later, the government recognized that Agent Orange could cause the skin condition chloracne.

Over the years, the government has added a host of diseases associated with Agent Orange entitling veterans to disability benefits. Those include several cancers, including cancer to the lung, larynx and trachea. Last year, the government recognized adult onset diabetes.

Monday's ruling puts prostate cancer and adult onset diabetes in line with the other diseases acknowledged by the government to have links to Agent Orange, meaning disability benefits would be paid from when a claim was first filed.

Clifford Nash, a Vietnam Army veteran with prostate cancer, said the court's decision will allow him to keep about $11,000 in benefits that he might have had to return had the court ruled the other way.

For many Vietnam veterans, the government has been paying the retroactive benefits while litigation continued. The government reserved the right to take back the benefits if it won the lawsuit.

``I've heard some veterans say we fought there and now we got to fight for what's right and ours,'' said the 71-year-old Nash, of West Enfield, Maine. ``Everything seems to be taking a turn for the better.''

Phil Budahn, a Veterans Affairs spokesman, said the government had not seen the decision and could not immediately comment.

Veterans disability benefits pay up to $26,000 per year.

Between 1962 and 1971, the United States sprayed 19 million gallons of herbicides over southern Vietnam to destroy jungle cover for communist troops.
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stolze
JIM STOLZE (Member): prostate cancer from agent orange 11/17/2009 12:42 AM
I am a five year survivor of prostate cancer and have a 100% dis ability from the army. I now have to go before the V.A for testing and maybe have my benefits taken away. Does the government have that right? Jim Stolze

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 2, 2002
Words:609
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