VA cancer benefits may be available to veterans who can prove a connection between their diagnosis and their time spent in military service.
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There is no time limit on applying for VA cancer benefits. Even years later, veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, burn pits, contaminated water, and toxic radiation can develop cancer. Veterans with service-connected cancer in remission can also still earn disability benefits for their residual conditions.
This article explains how the VA rates cancer and cancer in remission, and describes risk factors you may have experienced during military service which are presumed to be linked to cancer.
In this article about VA cancer benefits:
Cancer among veterans
More than 50,000 cases of cancer among the veteran population are reported each year. According to the VA health care system, the most common types of cancer diagnoses among veterans are:
- Kidney/renal pelvis
- Urinary and bladder
Cancer can affect anyone, but studies show that the veteran population is at a slightly higher risk of developing cancer than the general population, due to exposure to chemicals, pollutants, and radiation in service.
Some risk factors of veteran cancer are still being researched. For example, a recent Pentagon study indicated that military air crews have a 24% higher rate of cancer of all types and ground crews have a 3% higher rate of cancer. However, the exact carcinogens associated with flight operations and cancer development are still being determined.
VA cancer benefits and rating
If you have been diagnosed with cancer that is linked to your military service, you may be eligible for VA cancer benefits. Because cancer is a life-altering disease that may require treatment even in remission, the VA assigns a 100% disability rating to veterans with active, service-connected cancer. That rating is temporary, and will last as long as your cancer is active. Your rating continues for six months following completion of your cancer treatment. For veterans with spouses and dependents, additional monthly compensation is also available.
VA disability rating for cancer in remission
If your cancer is in remission, you may be wondering what happens to your VA cancer benefits.
Six months after the completion of your cancer treatment, the VA should schedule a compensation and pension (C&P) exam. This exam identifies the status of your diagnosis to determine if your cancer is in remission or is active. If your cancer is in remission, the VA will then assign a new, reduced, rating based on the severity of your residual conditions, if any exist.
For example, residual conditions of prostate cancer could be renal dysfunction and voiding dysfunction. If you received a 100% disability rating for prostate cancer, the VA would assign a new rating for your renal dysfunction if your prostate cancer is found to be in remission.
TDIU for cancer in remission
While 100% ratings for cancer are considered temporary, total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU) may be granted to a veteran with residuals from their cancer.
In the case of one veteran, their service-connected prostate cancer was in remission following removal of his prostate gland. The veteran was seeking TDIU. In his application, he noted that he was unable to hold employment due to voiding dysfunction, a residual condition of prostate cancer.
The Board of Veterans’ Appeals requested a C&P exam to examine how the veteran’s residual condition affected his daily life. Following the exam, the VA determined that the veteran to be unable to hold gainful employment as a result of this residual voiding dysfunction and how severely it affected his everyday life. Therefore, he was granted TDIU.
Military burn pits and cancer
Burn pits were a common method for ridding military bases of trash including metals, paints, plastics, wood, medical waste, and human waste. Jet fuel was often used to accelerate the burn, resulting in large volumes of toxic smoke and pollution. Many veterans, including those that served in the Southwest Asia theater of military operations, were exposed to toxic pollutants from burn pits.
Veterans that served near burn pits were exposed to unhealthy levels of pollution and toxins that have been linked to certain types of cancer.
These cancers are now presumed to be service connected for qualifying veterans who were exposed to burn pits. This means you do not have to prove a medical connection between your time in service and your medical condition:
- Brain cancer
- Gastrointestinal cancer
- Head cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Lymphatic cancer
- Neck cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Reproductive cancer
- Respiratory cancer
Atomic veterans and cancer
An atomic veteran is one that was exposed to ionizing radiation from waste, weapons, and equipment while serving in the military. Exposure to ionizing radiation may increase your risk of cancer because of its ability to cause chemical changes to cells and damage your DNA.
The VA assumes, or presumes, certain cancers are related to radiation-risk activity during service:
- Cancers of the bile ducts, bone, brain, breast, colon, esophagus, gallbladder, liver, lung, pancreas, pharynx, ovary, salivary gland, small intestine, stomach, thyroid, and urinary tract
- Leukemia (except chronic lymphocytic leukemia)
- Lymphomas (except Hodgkin’s disease)
- Multiple myeloma
To be eligible for a presumptive service connection for your cancer as an atomic veteran, all you have to do is prove that you are an atomic veteran by providing documentation of where and when you served.
Does Agent Orange cause cancer?
Agent Orange is a defoliant chemical used in the 1960s and 1970s to strip trees and plants of their leaves. This widely used military strategy was meant to remove the enemy’s opportunity to hide in the dense forests during the Vietnam and Korean Wars. Agent Orange contains a carcinogenic chemical called dioxin that is linked to several serious diseases, including cancer.
The Agent Orange Act, passed in 1991, established a presumptive service connection for veterans exposed to Agent Orange that meet specific criteria.
The VA presumes certain cancers are caused by exposure to Agent Orange:
- Bladder cancer
- Chronic b-cell leukemias
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Prostate cancer
- Respiratory cancers
- Soft tissue sarcomas
Contaminated groundwater and cancer
Veterans and their families that lived and worked at Camp Lejeune may have consumed or been exposed to contaminated drinking water that could increase the risk of developing certain cancers. Those affected may have drunk, bathed, cooked, and done laundry using this water. A 2018 study of the effects of this water concluded that the volatile organic compounds (VOC) contaminating the drinking water at Camp Lejeune are linked to an increased risk of developing certain cancers.
In the last decade, the VA has begun recognizing these cancers as presumptive service connections for qualifying veterans:
- Kidney cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Adult Leukemia
- Multiple Myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
The VA also recognizes other military bases have contaminated water that may increase the risk of cancer when exposed to it. If you served at one of these bases, among others, and later were diagnosed with cancer, you may also be eligible for VA cancer benefits:
- Anniston Army Depot in Bynum, Alabama
- Camp Pendleton in California
- Fort McClellan, Anniston, Alabama
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Hiring a VA disability benefits lawyer
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
When the VA determines your service-connected cancer is in remission following a C&P exam, you may still be eligible for disability benefits based on the severity of your residual conditions. Residual conditions are the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment which can negatively affect your daily life. The VA will assign a new rating for your residual conditions if any exist.
Because cancer is typically a life-altering disease that may require treatment even in remission, the VA assigns a 100% disability rating to veterans with active, service-connected cancer. That rating is temporary and will last as long as your cancer is active. This rating continues for six months following the completion of your cancer treatment.