Veterans Affairs officials added three new illnesses Tuesday to the list of diagnoses connected to Agent Orange, allowing quicker health care claims for Vietnam veterans suffering from Parkinson's disease, hairy cell leukemia, and ischemic heart disease.
It follows a study by the nongovernmental Institute of Medicine. The group has been studying the effects of Agent Orange since the early 1990s and this summer suggested a link between those diseases and the toxic Agent Orange chemicals.
In a statement, VA secretary Eric Shinseki said the additions bring to 12 the number of "presumed" sicknesses linked to Agent Orange. Others include prostate cancer and Hodgkin's.
Veterans with those conditions will not have to prove any connection between their sickness and their military service when filing a health benefits claim.
"We must do better reviews of illnesses that may be connected to service, and we will," Shinseki said. "Veterans who endure health problems deserve timely decisions based on solid evidence."
At the height of the Vietnam War, U.S. military commanders used Agent Orange -- a nickname for a host of herbicides -- to destroy the thick jungle canopy concealing guerilla fighters.
The chemicals were later linked to serious health problems in both civilians and troops, and later in their children, as well. Military records estimate that more than 2.6 million U.S. servicemembers may have been exposed to Agent Orange between 1965 and 1970.
VA officials said that up to 250,000 veterans may benefit from the latest change. In a statement, Veterans of Foreign Wars national commander Thomas Tradewell Sr., a Vietnam veteran, called the additions a significant change and praised Shinseki for the move.
"The VA is saying ‘we believe you,' which will enable more veterans to receive the healthcare and benefits they earned and deserve," he said.