The VA announced it will begin processing claims for the chronic disabilities of asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis, to include rhinosinusitis, as of Aug. 5, with servicemembers who deployed in Southwest Asia during the Gulf War and in response to the Global War on Terror eligible to have their claims fast-tracked.
This welcome news for thousands of veterans reflects the impact of MOAA and other veterans service organizations (VSOs) working to influence Congress on comprehensive toxic exposure reform, and shows the VA is watching Hill activity on this issue very closely. The nearly 10,000 emails MOAA members sent to Congress and over 350 meetings with lawmakers on the topic helped shape the debate in a way that would not have been possible without grassroots support.
It also highlights the need for an enduring, comprehensive process – like the one MOAA has backed. The underlying evidence the VA used to make this decision, provided in supplemental material shared alongside the rules in the Federal Register, comes from multiple sources and studies dating back to 2010: This shows the VA decision could have been made earlier, given they have the authority to do so.
Servicemembers whose conditions manifested and diagnosed within 10 years of qualifying service, are eligible to have their claims fast-tracked by the VA if they served:
- In the Southwest Asia theater of operations beginning Aug. 2, 1990, to the present (to include Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the neutral zone between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea and the airspace above these locations), or
- In Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, or Djibouti beginning Sept. 19, 2001 to the present.
The VA will be conducting outreach regarding the expanded eligibility for these conditions and has encouraged all veterans suffering from them to file a claim.
The VA released these rules as an “interim final rule,” which allows for interested stakeholders to offer feedback on the rule but still allows the department to accept and process claims as of the Aug. 5 publication date. Individuals who previously filed a disability claim and were denied service-connection for one of these conditions will need to refile with the VA for review.
The decision comes after the VA conducted an internal review process and deemed the evidence sufficient based on their review of National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) report and other evidence.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough has promised to put veterans first, and the VA is backing up such words with these kinds of actions. MOAA is encouraged by the first round of the VA’s new process – now transparency with VSOs and codifying a science-based approach are needed to help veterans quickly. The way VA approves presumptives should not change depending upon department leadership.
The addition of these presumptives is critical and will help tens of thousands of veterans, but our work is not done. MOAA’s ask for comprehensive reforms will be revisited by Congress after the August recess. Additionally, Congress needs to ensure the VA is resourced for the additional claims stemming from these new presumptives.
All too often, a minor win allows Congress to kick the can down the road and delay legislation. Comprehensive reform is far too vital for veterans to allow that to happen. Reach out to your lawmakers today.
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MOAA is committed to protecting the rights of servicemembers and their families. Lend your voice and support these efforts today. Because the larger our voice is, the greater our impact will be.