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Regulations issued in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mean that thousands more veterans are eligible for VA disability compensation benefits.

Nearly 150,000 veterans were affected by changes to VA disability regulations regarding Agent Orange, specifically those filing disability claims with Parkinson's disease (PD), ischemic heart disease, and hairy cell and other chronic B-cell leukemia, according to Eric K. Shinseki, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

The changes added these diseases to the list of diseases presumed to be related to Agent Orange exposure. It resulted in part from a study released in 2009 showing that there is evidence exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides is associated with an increased risk of PD.

Vietnam veterans exposed to herbicides in service and who suffer from PD can avoid the difficulty of proving an association between their health issues and their military service. It is now easier for Vietnam veterans living with PD to qualify for VA disability benefits.

PD is a common neurodegenerative brain disorder that progresses slowly in most people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There is no cure, and those with the disease can live for 20 years or more after diagnosis.

Primary symptoms include tremor of the hands, arms, legs or jaw; muscle rigidity or stiffness of the limbs and trunk; slowness of movement, and impaired balance and coordination. Other common symptoms may include pain, dementia, sleep disorders and disturbances, depression, constipation, anxiety, hallucinations, muffled speech, loss of control of facial muscles, urinary problems and issues with walking.

The United States military sprayed 19 million gallons of herbicides over Vietnam to reduce the jungle growth, clear vegetation from base camps and destroy crops, according to Shinseki. The main chemical used was Agent Orange, mixed with several other compounds and toxins.

Allsup encourages veterans who served in Vietnam between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, to see their physician. In the U.S., an estimated 60,000 individuals are diagnosed with PD each year, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation (PDF). Many Vietnam veterans are among the ranks of the 1 million people in the U.S. with the chronic disorder.

In the U.S., the cost of PD that includes treatment, Social Security payments and lost income from inability to work is estimated to be nearly $25 billion per year, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation (PDF). Costs for medication can average $2,500 a year, and therapeutic surgery may cost up to $100,000.

Here are more Parkinson's disease facts from the CDC and PDF:

  • PD is the 14th leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • Seven to 10 million people worldwide suffer from PD.
  • An estimated 4 percent of people with PD are diagnosed before age 50. Incidence increases with age.
  • Statistics show that men are more likely to have Parkinson's disease than women.

The American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA) and the VA Sierra Nevada Healthcare System (VASNHCS) operate the Veteran Information and Referral Center for Parkinson's Disease. Support groups and resources are listed online. Go to and click on Veterans Center.

You also can visit the APDA's booth at the Allsup True Help Disability Web Expo to find more information.Go to to register.

Veterans Disability - Nov. 12 Q and A

The presentation, "What You Need to Know About Veterans Disability," is available now on-demand at the Allsup True Help® Disability Web Expo. Register for the Web Expo and view the presentation by going to, and visiting the True Help® Auditorium. You can view the presentation at any time and return to the Expo on Monday, Nov. 12, from 1 to 2 p.m. (CST) for the live Q and A. Click here for more information.

Caregiving and Parkinson's Disease - Nov. 20 Seminar

The Parkinson's Disease Foundation offers support to the care partners who are making a difference in the lives of people with Parkinson's disease, and will hold an online/telephone seminar about "Caregiving and Parkinson's" on Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 12 p .m. (CST). For more information, visit