In honor of Veterans Day, the Biden Administration released a plan to improve the VA’s system of handling conditions caused by exposures during service.
Currently, if a condition is not included on the VA’s Presumptive List, the burden of proof falls on the veteran. The veteran must show what they were exposed to, how much, and how often, as well as provide evidence that similar exposures are known to cause their medical conditions.
With little to no access to this type of evidence, this burden is often too great, leaving many veterans unable to receive the benefits they require for their conditions.
In response to the President’s request, the VA is hoping to ease this burden by testing a new presumptive decision model from November 15th, 2021 to April 1, 2022.
During this period, the VA will use the new model to consider an association between military exposures and some respiratory conditions, including constrictive bronchiolitis and various respiratory cancers. The VA will use the most current medical research, military environmental research, and veterans’ claim and health data to identify any causal connections between the environments and these respiratory conditions.
After this pilot period, the VA will then finalize the model and start using it to identify other presumptive conditions prevalent in the veteran population.
In order to ensure that the VA has the most current veteran data, the VA is encouraging all veterans with conditions that they believe are due to exposure but are not yet on the Presumptive List to submit new claims, even if previous claims have been denied. The VA plans to use this data to guide their efforts in evaluating future presumptive conditions.
In addition to this new presumptive decision model, the Biden Administration is acknowledging the lack of training among professionals working with veterans who have been exposed.
The White House Fact Sheet states, “Some claims adjudicators may not have up-to-date awareness of recent policies related to conditions newly presumed to be service-connected. … [And] veterans often find that their providers and compensation and pension examiners are not well-trained to understand or treat veterans’ exposure concerns.”
To address this concerning lack of training for VA professionals, new training programs are launching to ensure “a basic level of competence” for all VA providers and adjudicators.