The Department of Veterans Affairs announced that nearly 230,000 claims have already been processed for the three newest Agent-Orange related conditions through June 2012, including over 150,000 claims required to be adjudicated under the order of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Nehmer v. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The near completion of these complex Nehmer claims enables VA to redirect 1,200 employees who were dedicated to reviewing the Agent Orange cases toward addressing the current backlog of disability claims.
"I am proud of our VA employees who worked hard to complete these Agent Orange claims, putting over $3.6 billion into the hands of our Vietnam Veterans and their survivors," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "We completed all of the Agent Orange Nehmer claims for living Veterans, and are now focusing on the fewer than 500 remaining that will benefit survivors."
The Agent Orange claims stemmed from VA's 2010 amendment of its regulations to add ischemic heart disease, hairy cell and other chronic B-cell leukemias, and Parkinson's disease to the list of diseases presumed to be related to exposure to the herbicide used in Southeast Asia.
"While we work to transform how we do business through new processes and technology, at the end of the day it's about taking care of our Veterans and their loved ones on the issues affecting their lives," said Secretary Shinseki.
Given the complexity of the historical casework, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) allocated its most experienced decision makers, about 37 percent of its rating staff, to processing Agent Orange claims. VBA's 13 resource centers were exclusively dedicated to re-adjudicating these claims.
Even with this allocation of 37 percent of the rating staff dedicated to Agent Orange claims, VA processed over 1 million disability claims in each of the last 2 years, an unprecedented number. "Incoming claims over the last ten years have nearly doubled," said VA Under Secretary for Benefits, Allison A. Hickey. "Being able to refocus these skilled raters on the backlog is vitally important."
In addition to redirecting its rating staff, VA has developed a comprehensive transformation plan to achieve in 2015 Secretary Shinseki's goal of completing claims within 125 days at 98 percent accuracy. The plan is built on more than 40 designed, tested, and measured people, processing, and technology initiatives. VA is now beginning the nationwide rollout of its new operating model and electronic processing system, known as the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS). All regional offices will be operating under the new model and using the new processing system by the end of 2013.
VA has established a website, www.fastrack.va.gov, to assist Veterans in filing claims for the three new conditions related to the effects of Agent Orange exposure. It guides Veterans through automated, program-assisted menus to capture the information and medical evidence needed for faster claims decision. Potentially eligible Veterans include those who were exposed based on duty or visitation in Vietnam or on its inland waterways between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975; exposed along the demilitarized zone in Korea between April 1, 1968, and August 31, 1971; or exposed due to herbicide tests and storage at military bases within and outside of the United States.