Long waits are not uncommon to veterans waiting for their cases to be reviewed by Veterans Administration offices across the country. There is a typically heavy load of cases in every office, but in the state of Maine, some veterans are being told they may have to wait up to 2 years for their cases to be seen. The root cause for this is the recent ruling in favor of Agent Orange disability claims.
During the Vietnam War, thousands of troops were exposed to what was at the time considered a harmless herbicide. In the following decades, the deadly effects of what became termed Agent Orange were all too apparent, as Vietnam vets began to report cases of highly aggressive types of cancer. The original lawsuit that dealt with Agent Orange became controversial as a loophole in the judgment imposed a deadline for all claims. Since it was discovered that the effects of Agent Orange often did not show up for 20 to 30 years later, a large portion of vets exposed to it, and otherwise eligible for settlements, were unaware of the effects of their exposure until after the lawsuit deadline had expired.
Thousands of Vietnam veterans and their advocates have labeled this an injustice and filed additional lawsuits. Finally, judges ruled in favor of the Nehmer Project filed by the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) against the Veterans Administration, VA. As a result, disability offices are facing a tremendous flood of new Agent Orange cases which were previously ineligible.
The VA has designated the office in Togus, Maine, as the only office to deal with the Agent Orange cases. Consequently, other veterans’ disability claims are being pushed back even further. In spite of the need for Agent Orange cases to be dealt with per the Nehmer Project, other eligible veterans’ disability claims are being backlogged. These veterans are often in such dire need of disability benefits that they are unable to support their families without it.
Some of Main’s veterans who are being told they may wait up to two years for a hearing have even appealed to their state senators in an attempt to receive some kind of temporary relief while they wait. So far, the VA has been unresponsive to any contact from the senators and has not made any efforts to do anything for the waiting veterans.
Because of all the controversy surrounding the Agent Orange liability, the Veterans Administration has faced tremendous repercussions that will likely continue for years. Veterans should continue to expect delays in the processing of their claims. Those who are as unfortunate as to be filing in Maine will face even longer waits, but should continue to contact legislators and VA officials in an effort to find a better solution than the current one.
Most would agree that the Agent Orange cases that are finally being granted disability benefits should take priority, as many of these veterans have been suffering for years with the effects of Agent Orange while being excluded from VA benefits. However, this does not mean that the newer batch of veterans should now be the ones to suffer.