More than 40,000 cancer cases are reported among veterans each year. Veterans with cancer account for around 3% of all cases of cancer in the United States.
What is Cancer?
Cancer is the name given to a collection of related diseases. In all kinds of cancer, the body’s cells have begun to divide without stopping and spread into the surrounding tissue. Cancer can start almost anywhere in the body. When cancer develops, the body’s normal cell division process breaks down and new cells form where they are not needed and may form growths called tumors.
Cancerous tumors are malignant, which means they can spread into and invade nearby tissues. These cells can break off and travel to other places in the body through blood or the lymph system and form new tumors. However, not all cancer causes tumors, many cancers such as cancer of the blood do not form solid tumors.
VA Service-Connection for Cancer
To receive VA disability benefits for cancer, a service connection must be established. For direct service connection, it needs to be proven that a veteran is currently diagnosed with cancer and that it is at least as likely as not the result of their military service.
There are some situations where cancer is a presumptive condition. For veterans who meet certain eligibility requirements, the VA will presume that their cancer is connected to their military service.
Cancers Related to Agent Orange Exposure
Veterans who served (1) boots on the ground in Vietnam; (2) in Vietnam’s inland waterways, or (3) in Vietnam’s territorial seas (Blue Water Navy veterans) between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, are eligible to receive VA disability for the following cancers on a presumptive basis:
- Chronic B-Cell Leukemia
- Hodgkin’s Disease
- Multiple Myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Prostate Cancer
- Respiratory Cancer
- Soft Tissue Sarcoma (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma)
Cancers Related to Ionizing Radiation
For veterans who partook in a radiation-risk activity during service the VA presumes that certain forms of cancer are related to their exposure, including:
- Bile ducts
- Gall Bladder
- Liver (but not if cirrhosis or hepatitis B indicated)
- Salivary Gland
- Small Intestine
- Urinary Tract (kidney/renal, urinary bladder, and urethra)
Leukemia (not including chronic lymphocytic leukemia), lymphomas (except Hodgkin’s disease), and multiple myeloma are also included in VA’s list of presumptive conditions associated with ionizing radiation exposure.
VA Disability Ratings for Cancer and Residual Effects
If service-connected for active cancer the VA should automatically assign a 100% disability rating. This rating continues as long as the cancer is active and then for another 6 months following the successful completion of a treatment program.
Six months after treatment ends the VA will schedule a Compensation & Pension examination to evaluate the current status of the cancer. If the cancer is no longer active and is in remission then the VA will evaluate cancer based on the residuals.