Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Congressional Action Expands Agent Orange Presumption Beyond Parkinson’s Disease to include Parkinsonism (by Jennifer Morrell, Widener University Delaware Law School)

In 2010, the VA added Parkinson’s disease to its list of conditions which are presumptively linked to Agent Orange exposure. This addition to the official list of presumptive conditions followed the usual route, whereby the Secretary of VA considered scientific studies and concluded there was enough of an association between Agent Orange and Parkinson’s disease to warrant a presumption. The VA’s final rule was effective August 31, 2010.   

Commenters on VA’s initial rule urged VA to include Parkinsonism on the presumptive list.  However, VA rejected this request, explaining that the report on which the agency relied only evaluated the correlation between Agent Orange and Parkinson’s disease. VA further stated that according to the report, Parkinsonism is not the same disease as Parkinson’s disease.  
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Parkinsonism is any condition that causes a combination of the movement abnormalities seen in Parkinson's disease — such as tremor, slow movement, impaired speech or muscle stiffness — especially resulting from the loss of dopamine-containing nerve cells (neurons).”  
In March 2016, the National Academies of Medicine issued a report that expanded the definition of Parkinson’s disease to include Parkinsonism and Parkinson-like symptoms. Despite this development, VA failed to expand its presumptive list. 
This year, Congress took matters into its own hands by adding a section to the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act that compelled VA to add three new conditions to the presumptive list, including Parkinsonism. The other two conditions are hypothyroidism and bladder cancer.  
The significance of this move is that Parkinsonism is a broader category than Parkinson’s Disease and will allow more veterans with movement disorders to obtain disability compensation benefits from VA. In addition, if veterans made claims in the past for conditions that fall under the umbrella term of Parkinsonism, they will be added to the Nehmer class and could wind up with benefits effective the date of their original claim.

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