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VA Begins Paying New Gulf War Toxic Exposure Compensation

The agency has started paying out the pledged benefits to veterans exposed to chemical agents during the Gulf War in addition to compensation for those who served in Vietnam.

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Washington, D.C., USA - July 20, 2019: Exterior shots are photographed on the afternoon of July 20, 2019 at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Photo Credit: P_Wei/iStock

The Department of Veterans Affairs has begun processing new compensation to veterans who suffered toxic exposure during the Gulf War.

Following a statement in May 2021 that the agency would begin new payouts to veterans who bear health consequences as a result of napalm and other chemical agents while serving in southeast Asia, VA declared additional planned compensation for Gulf War veterans.

In the wake of the May 2021 statement, Secretary Denis McDonough outlined that “[The Veterans Benefits Administration] estimates approximately 52,000 veterans and 6,000 survivors will be receiving benefit payments in the first year alone.”

The VA has previously faced criticism over the absence of compensation to blue water Navy veterans who suffered agent orange exposure, as well as a lack of payout to service members who faced long-term health consequences from the Gulf War.

McDonough announced at an Oct. 20 press conference that the agency is mobilizing to begin awarding this Gulf War compensation to veterans and veteran families.

“For the very first time, we are presumptively paying toxic exposure claims to Gulf War veterans, specifically to those who suffer from asthma, sinusitis and rhinitis as a result of their service. We’ve already processed more than 3,800 claims, delivering millions of dollars in benefits that vets so rightly deserve,” McDonough said.

The need to process and pay these claims in a timely manner has led to new demands on the Veterans Benefits Administration, which is now in the process of fulfilling its pledge to hire 2,000 new personnel to manage these claims and prevent a heavy backlog. This hiring push is being supported through usage of funding outlined within the American Rescue Plan that will allow VA to begin hiring and training immediately.

“For now, these new claims along with the blue water Navy claims and new agent orange claim Agent Orange claims resulting from the National Defense Authorization Act last year, have led to a surge in the claims backlog, which will grow again later this month. To proactively address this surge in the backlog, we’re hiring and training 2,000 new claims processors, and we are using American rescue plan funding to pay overtime for processors,” McDonough said.

The VA is also moving to expedite this claims processing by digitizing records using funding laid out within the agency’s fiscal year 2022 budget, a push that aligns with the agency’s broader claims modernization program that is aimed towards significantly reducing claims backlog.

“We’re deploying FY 2022 budget resources to expedite toxic exposure claims processing by digitizing records, and by making sure that we have appropriate funding for comp and pen exams. We’re processing claims at a record pace, and given these additional steps we fully expect to reach our goal of reducing the claims backlog to 100,000 claims by 2024,” McDonough said.

McDonough recognized that payout of new toxic exposure claims will lead to a temporary surge in backlog that these new provisions are designed to overcome, with VA having improved upon the agency’s pre-2021 claims backlog over the past few months.

“Right now we’re at about 200,000 claims. This weekend that will go up to 260,000 claims. When we got here, we were at about 216,000 claims. We worked that down to 180,000 claims about a month and a half ago, then that jumped up to 220,000 claims with the blue water Navy claims. That’s now been worked down to just over 200,000, that will jump up again this weekend by 60,000,” McDonough said.

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