In this blog I wanted to address VA benefits for hypertension caused by exposure to agent orange in the Vietnam Era. We have a letter from a gentleman that I wanted to share and then I’ll respond to that letter.
Dear VA Guy,
I served in the US Air Force and was stationed at the Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand from December 1970 to March 1972. I’ve never applied for any VA benefits in the past, but I recently applied for hypertension under the PACT Act. I just recently received my decision. The VA found service connection for my hypertension, but I was given an evaluation of 0%. I’m confused because I do have hypertension — it’s service connected — but they gave me a 0% rating. How can I have a service-connected injury without receiving any compensation?
Like anything dealing with the VA or the government, this can get complicated. There are a lot of nuances when dealing with the VA rules, regulations, and rating schedules. To make sense of the bureaucratic maze, I often like to simply go back to the basics. So here we go!
For service connection to be established for an injury, disease, or disability, you need three things. Number one, you must show evidence of a current disability or condition. In this case, we’re talking about hypertension. Number two, the injury must have occurred or was aggravated during your service. And number three, you must establish a “nexus” or service connection between your disability and your service. This nexus basically demonstrates that your disability is a result of your service.
PACT Act and Hypertension
Prior to the passing of the PACT Act in 2022, hypertension was not included as disability for which you could receive VA benefits. But thankfully, the PACT Act added hypertension as a presumptive condition for Vietnam Veterans. These presumptive conditions are automatically granted service connection, which makes things much easier for a Veteran trying to obtain VA disability benefits. Instead of having to prove a service connection, that service connection is presumed. You only have to prove that you have the condition or disability and you have to prove that you served during those times.
For Veterans who served in Vietnam between January 1962 and May 1975, it is now presumed that they were exposed to agent orange. This includes Veterans who served at the Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand, U-Tapao, Ubon, and others. With the passing of the PACT Act in August 2022, benefits for these Veterans have been greatly expanded. The PACT Act specifically added hypertension and monoclonal gammopathy as presumptive conditions for Vietnam Veterans.
Ratings for Hypertension
The Veteran who wrote the letter above was granted service connection for hypertension based on the presumptions listed in the PACT Act. But why wasn’t he given a disability rating for his hypertension? Let’s take a closer look at the VA rules and rating schedule for hypertension.
The VA rates hypertension based on a percentage scale from 10% to 60%. This rating is determined by the two numbers on your blood pressure reading. The top number is your systolic or “active” pressure while the bottom number is your diastolic or “resting” pressure. The VA uses the following scale to rate hypertension.
• 60% Rating – Diastolic pressure is 130 or higher.
• 40% Rating – Diastolic pressure is between 120 and 129.
• 20% Rating – Diastolic pressure is between 110 and 119, or systolic pressure is over 200.
• 10% Rating – Diastolic pressure is between 100 and 109, or systolic pressure is between 169 and 199.
To receive disability compensation, you must have a rating of 10% or higher. In the case of hypertension, you must have diastolic or systolic readings that meet the criteria listed above to get at least a 10% rating. I suspect that the blood pressure reading for this Veteran did not meet the ratings criteria.
My next question would be whether this Veteran has a history of his diastolic pressure being 100 or more? Does this Veteran take continuous blood pressure regulation medication? And if yes, did he submit that information to the VA?
If information regarding the blood pressure medication was not submitted to the VA, it should have been. If your blood pressure is being controlled by medications, the diastolic number from your blood pressure reading is always going to be lower than it actually is. If that’s the case, you should still be eligible for disability compensation through the VA. You just need to tell them that you’re on medication and that’s why your reading was lower than it usually is.
Blood pressure and hypertension are very new to the VA realm of disability benefits. As such, there is not much information out there on how to navigate the VA maze of rules and regulations. Thankfully, the PACT Act has made things much easier for Veterans seeking disability benefits. But you still need to be as thorough as possible when submitting a claim, ensuring you submit every single piece of medical evidence and opinion you can provide.
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