WASHINGTON, March 9 -- The U.S. Army
issued the following news release:

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced today a new initiative to
solicit private-sector input on a proposed "fast track" veterans'
claims process for service-connected presumptive illnesses due to
Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War.

"This will be a new way of doing business and a major step forward in
how we process the presumptive claims we expect to receive over the
next two years," Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki
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News, Most Recent 60 Days said. "With the latest, fastest, and most
reliable technology, VA
hopes to migrate the manual processing of these claims to an automated
process that meets the needs of today's veterans in a more timely

Over the next two years, about 200,000 veterans are expected to file
disability compensation claims under an historic expansion of three
new presumptive illnesses announced last year by Shinseki. They affect
veterans who have Parkinson's disease, ischemic heart disease and
B-cell leukemia’s.

In practical terms, veterans who served in Vietnam during the war and
who have one of the illnesses covered by the "presumption of service
connection" don't have to prove an association between their medical
problems and military service. This "presumption" makes it easier for
Vietnam veterans to access disability compensation benefits.

Vietnam veterans are encouraged to submit their claims as soon as
possible to begin the important process of compensation, according to
VA officials.

Along with the publication of proposed regulations for the three new
presumptive this spring, VA intends to publish a formal request in
Federal Business Opportunities for private-sector corporations to
propose automated solutions for the parts of the claims process that
take the longest amount of time. VA believes these can be collected in
a more streamlined and accurate way.

Development involves determining what additional information is needed
to adjudicate the claim, such as military and private medical records
and the scheduling of medical examinations.

With this new approach, VA expects to shorten the time it takes to
gather evidence, which now takes an average of more than 90 days. Once
the claim is fully developed and all pertinent information is
gathered, VA will be able to more quickly decide the claim and process
the award, if granted.

The contract is expected to be awarded in April with proposed
solutions offered to VA within 90 days. Implementation of the solution
is expected within 150 days.

"Veterans whose health was harmed during their military service are
entitled to the best this nation has to offer," Shinseki said. "We are
undertaking an unprecedented modernization of our claims process to
ensure timely and accurate delivery of that commitment."

Last year, VA received more than one million claims for disability
compensation and pension. VA provides compensation and pension
benefits to more than 3.8 million veterans and beneficiaries.
Presently, the basic monthly rate of compensation ranges from $123 to
$2,673 to veterans without any dependents.

Disability compensation is a non-taxable, monthly monetary benefit
paid to veterans who are disabled as a result of an injury or illness
that was incurred or aggravated during active military service.

For more information about disability compensation, go to www.va.gov.
Additional information about Agent Orange and VA's services and
programs for veterans exposed are available at
www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange.For more information

Rev.  James C. Bliss
VA Assistance Officer
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Web Master
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