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Lawsuit Filed Against VA to Help Vietnam Vets Suffering From Agent Orange Diseases

Released 3/17/10 | Tags: Agent Orange

National Veterans Legal Services Program, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Non-Commissioned Officers Association, Paralyzed Veterans of America, & United Spinal Association/VetsFirst Insist VA Comply With the Law


WASHINGTON – Advocating for the 200,000 estimated Vietnam veterans suffering from Agent Orange exposure, a coalition of veteran’s service organizations filed a lawsuit yesterday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to force the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to publish new regulations so that veterans who file a claim for one of the three new conditions that have been linked to Agent Orange exposure can obtain benefits from the earliest possible date.

The lawsuit was filed by the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP), the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Non-Commissioned Officers Association, the Paralyzed Veterans of America and United Spinal Association/VetsFirst with pro-bono help from Chadbourne & Parke LLP.

The VA missed a critical 210-day deadline specified by the Agent Orange Act of 1991 to publish a regulation authorizing VA to pay disability benefits to Vietnam veterans stricken with ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, or B-cell leukemias.

“We applaud that some veteran’s service organizations have advised veterans who may be entitled to compensation for these three Agent Orange conditions to file claims with the VA as soon as possible, even though the regulation is not yet published ,” said Ron Abrams, co-executive director of NVLSP.

But Vietnam veterans who are now battling heart disease, fighting cancer, or coping with a degenerative central nervous system disease, may be focused more on their serious health issues, and not paperwork for a disability claim that they will not be entitled to until the VA publishes a regulation. The lawsuit is about protecting these veterans – those who are the sickest who may not file a claim immediately.

VA’s delay will doubly harm the Vietnam veterans who suffer from one of these diseases and have not yet filed a claim for one of the three new disabilities, say the organizations. In one of the odd quirks of VA rulemaking, those filing after the regulation is published, are hurt more financially by the VA’s delay. VA’s delay not only postpones their receipt of benefits – it will also forever deny these Vietnam veterans disability compensation for the pre-publication period. When multiplied by thousands of potential claimants, VA’s delay could cost Vietnam veterans millions of dollars.

“It would be especially unconscionable for severely disabled veterans, some of whom may be entitled to over $7,000 per month from the VA, to miss out on months of benefits for their service-connected conditions because the federal government could not get its act together to issue a regulation within the time mandated by statute,” said Abrams.

“I am deeply thankful for Secretary Shinseki’s support for inclusion of these three diseases as presumptive Agent Orange disabilities. We know many thousands of veterans will ultimately benefit,” said Frank Van Hoy, National Service Director of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.  “We are participating in this lawsuit, however, because we do not want the involvement of other federal agencies in budgetary review to inadvertently hurt the sickest and most vulnerable veterans impacted by this delay.”

The 210-day deadline clock started ticking on July 24, 2009 when a Congressionally-mandated report showing a connection between Agent Orange and these three diseases was published by the Institute of Medicine. On October 13, 2009, the VA announced that Secretary Shinseki had agreed to amend the VA’s Agent Orange regulations to require disability compensation be paid to Vietnam veterans with these three diseases due to Agent Orange exposure. His announcement was widely praised.

The Agent Orange Act of 1991 specifies that benefits cannot be paid until VA publishes the regulations in the Federal Register. The deadline to publish new Agent Orange regulations was exceeded on February 19, 2010. Some Vietnam veterans who should have been granted benefits effective February 2010 will lose months of entitlement if the regulation is not promptly published.

“We know that paying benefits to Vietnam veterans suffering from these three diseases that are scientifically linked to Agent Orange is something that Secretary Shinseki wants to see happen. The Secretary of the VA is himself a Vietnam veteran and has spoken poignantly and repeatedly about this,” said Bart Stichman, co-executive director of NVLSP. “But it appears the government bureaucracy has botched the intentions of a Secretary who is trying to do the right thing for veterans.”

Press and media interview requests should be directed to Ami Neiberger-Miller, NVLSP, ami@steppingstonellc.com or Andrew Blum, Chadbourne & Parke, 212.728.4519, ablum@chadbourne.com.

The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) is an independent, nonprofit veterans’ service organization that has served active duty military personnel and veterans since 1980. NVLSP has represented veterans in Agent Orange lawsuits for nearly three decades. NVSLP offers training for attorneys and other advocates, connects veterans and active duty personnel with pro bono legal help, publishes the nation’s definitive guide on veterans’ benefits, and represents and litigates for veterans and their families before the VA, military discharge review agencies, and federal courts. For more information, go to www.nvlsp.org.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE VETERAN’S SERVICE ORGANIZATIONS FILING THE LAWSUITMilitary Order of the Purple Heart, Frank Van Hoy, (703) 354-2140, www.purpleheart.org 
Non-Commissioned Officers Association, Richard C. Schneider, (703) 549-0311, www.ncoausa.org 
Paralyzed Veterans of America, Mark Daley (202) 416-7681, www.pva.org
United Spinal Association/VetsFirst, Len Selfon, (202) 556- 2076, lselfon@unitedspinal.org, www.vetsfirst.org


Chadbourne & Parke LLP, an international law firm headquartered in New York City, provides a full range of legal services, including mergers and acquisitions, securities, project finance, private funds, corporate finance, energy, communications and technology, commercial and products liability litigation, securities litigation and regulatory enforcement, special investigations and litigation, intellectual property, antitrust, domestic and international tax, insurance and reinsurance, environmental, real estate, bankruptcy and financial restructuring, employment law and ERISA, trusts and estates and government contract matters. Major geographical areas of concentration include Russia, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. The Firm has offices in New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Mexico City, London (an affiliated partnership), Moscow, St. Petersburg, Warsaw, Kyiv, Almaty, Dubai and Beijing. For additional information, visit www.chadbourne.com.


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