WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Thursday it will process claims for disability benefits from thousands of Vietnam War veterans who suffer from bladder cancer, hypothyroidism or Parkinson’s-like symptoms because of their exposure to Agent Orange.  

Earlier this year, Congress passed a measure that added the three conditions to the VA’s presumptive list, meaning the government acknowledges that veterans developed those conditions because of their exposure to chemical herbicides during the war. The VA’s action Thursday implements the new law and creates a fast track to disability compensation. 

During a news conference Thursday, VA Secretary Denis McDonough encouraged veterans with those conditions to file a claim. He also announced that the department would be automatically reviewing past claims for the conditions that were rejected. VA claims processors will reassess the old claims and potentially approve retroactive benefits.  

“This means that any Vietnam veteran suffering from one of these three conditions can now file and receive benefits for care,” McDonough said. “These veterans and their survivors who previously filed and were denied benefits for these conditions will have their cases automatically reviewed without the need to refile.”  

The department estimated that in the first year, the VA would grant benefits to 52,000 veterans and 6,000 dependents who are affected by these conditions.  

The VA decided to open the claims process to veterans suffering from the three conditions ahead of when the law requires. According to the department, it will send letters to veterans and survivors who are affected by this decision.  

“The bottom line is … for too long and for too many of our nation’s veterans and survivors, they’ve been waiting for benefits,” McDonough said. “Now they won’t have to wait any longer.” 

Twitter: @nikkiwentling  

The Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C.

The Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C. (Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes)

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