Toxic Chemical Exposure and Veterans Benefits


Many military service members receive benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs because of exposure to toxic chemicals during their time in the armed forces.

However, the application process is not as straightforward as it seems it should be, and sometimes people receive denials rather than benefits. The applications may have different requirements depending on the chemicals involved, the location of the exposure and the type of illness.

Presumptive exposure

Some exposures are presumptive, meaning that anyone who served at a particular location at a specific time does not have to show a definitive link between medical conditions and toxic exposure. For example, medical professionals have linked a number of different cancers to contact with Agent Orange:

  • Hodgkin’s disease
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Chronic B-cell leukemia
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Prostate cancer
  • Soft tissue sarcomas
  • Respiratory cancers

Those who have one of these presumptive diseases must show that they served in Vietnam during the time that herbicide exposure occurred or that their service brought them in contact with Agent Orange at another time. Other presumed disabilities may include chronic illnesses caused as a result of being a prisoner of war or chronic illnesses that develop within one year of discharge.

Evidence of exposure

Other illnesses due to chemical exposure may require more evidence. For example, a service member with a condition linked to asbestos exposure would need to provide the following:

  • Service records stating the service member’s job or specialty
  • Medical records stating the illness
  • A physician’s statement that the illness has a direct connection to the contact with asbestos

The types of jobs often resulting in asbestos exposure include shipyard work, construction, carpentry, demolition, mining and milling.

Chemicals present in various environmental hazards in certain locations may also cause serious illnesses. In Iraq, Afghanistan and Djibouti, large burn pits exposed many service members to dangerous chemicals. There is a Burn Pit Registry that those filing a claim will need to include, along with the other evidence to support the claim.