Veterans cheered! The “Honoring the PACT Act” passed in 2022!
Finally, a law that cements the presumption that their high blood pressure was caused by Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant that was sprayed liberally and carelessly, especially in Vietnam. After decades of fighting for the inclusion of Agent Orange as a presumptive cause of hypertension, the vets would get their due, a disability rating and a disability payment. Hoorah!
But there was a catch in that PACT Act. As always, it's in the fine print. As a veteran, you could apply for disability under the Act if you had high blood pressure, even if you were medicated for it. But veterans who are already being treated for high blood pressure are evaluated for disability ON THEIR BLOOD PRESSURE READINGS AS CONTROLLED BY MEDICATION, almost guaranteeing a disability rating of 0%.
“Your hypertension must be rated at 10 percent or higher to receive monthly compensation— though a 0 percent rating still qualifies you for health care and other ancillary benefits.” (Source: Joye Law Firm)
Therefore, at a disability rating of 10% (refer to the chart above), you can receive a disability check of about $165/month in 2023. Hypothetically, a Vietnam veteran who had never been treated for hypertension, may well qualify based upon a worsening condition that was unknown or ignored for decades. If you took care of yourself and got treatment, your “disability,” according to the VA, is valid but not enough for compensation. As such, I do not qualify. As a Veterans Service Officer wrote to me recently about my own situation, “You were in the wrong place at the wrong time and have hypertension.”
I do not need the money. What I can say is that there are tens of thousands of very deserving veterans, maybe more, who will not be getting even the $165/month because of this bureaucratic mumbo jumbo. Therein lies the cruel joke; yet another corollary to Catch-22.
Qualifying for a VA disability due to hypertension is already a difficult climb, as you have seen by the chart at the top of this article. If you have those numbers while already receiving treatment, you are likely to soon be dead, or you have an incompetent doctor, or both. At left is a chart by the American Heart Association that recently LOWERED the readings for having high blood pressure and being at increased risk of BP related diseases. The Heart Association numbers fly in the face of the VA chart, whose astronomical PB readings are necessary in order for it to be considered a disability.
“In general, a rating for a disability will not be based on whether or not medication is helping the disability. However, the Court has stated that a Veteran may not be denied entitlement to a higher rating on the basis of relief provided by medication when “those effects are not specifically contemplated by the rating criteria.” So, if the rating criteria considers whether or not medication helps with the disability, the rating will only be determined based on the evidence of the disability after medication, not based on non-medicated symptoms. Hypertension is rated under 38 C.F.R. § 4.104, under diagnostic code 7101. The Court has stated that diagnostic code 7101 DOES contemplate the effects of medication.”
Not sure which “Court” decided this but the logic mirrors decisions I have seen regularly on Judge Judy.
In spite of all this, I encourage all my fellow veterans to apply to the VA for this disability rating under the PACT Act. You can also write to your senator or representative in the U.S. Congress. Write letters to your local newspaper and call out the VA and Congress on this bait and switch. Unless you call them out, they will continue to crow about their great but phony accomplishments, like this one, in supporting the troops.