Prostate cancer is the second most frequent cancer among American men, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). About one in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their lifetime. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among U.S. Veterans, making up 30% of new cancer diagnoses in the VA health system. Approximately 11,000 Veterans are diagnosed with the disease every year.
What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer begins when prostate cells mutate and grow out of control forming a tumor.
What causes prostate cancer?
Medical experts say that age, ethnicity (African Americans have the highest incidence among all ethnicities), diet, and smoking play a role in developing this cancer. But what causes prostate cells to grow out of control in a specific individual is often unclear. What is clear is that Veterans who have been exposed to toxic substances have an increased risk of developing prostate cancer.
What is presumptive service connection?
Some forms of toxic exposure have presumptive service connection. This means that for these VA disability cases the VA must assume that Veterans who served in certain locations and during certain time periods were exposed to toxic substances and this caused their prostate cancer. These Veterans no longer have to provide proof of an in-service event, injury, or illness that led to their impairments which removes some of the obstacles associated with filing a VA disability claim.
What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?
- Erectile dysfunction
- Hip, back, or chest pain
- Weakness or numbness
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Difficulty urinating, specifically increased urge to urinate or weak urinary stream
- Bloody urine or semen
How does the VA rate prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is listed under diagnostic code 7528, malignant neoplasms of the genitourinary system. The VA rates active prostate cancer at 100% during treatment and for six months after treatment. After the six months, the VA requires a re-examination to determine a new rating.
If the cancer goes into remission it is common for the patient to experience residual impairments. The VA evaluates each residual of the cancer and rates them based on their severity. The presence of cancer residuals and their severity can vary widely from person to person, but here are some of the most common residuals of prostate cancer and how the VA rates them:
- Erectile Dysfunction. Although ED is often a residual of prostate cancer, the VA will only grant a 0% rating for erectile dysfunction unless there is deformity with loss of erectile power. However, a Veteran who is granted service connection for erectile dysfunction is eligible for Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) for the loss of use of a creative organ
- Frequent Urination. Depending on the length of time between urinations the VA ratings for frequent urination ranges from 10% to 40%. If the daytime voiding interval is every 2-3 hours or getting up 2 times per night, a 10% rating will be assigned. For a 20% rating the Veteran must have to urinate every 1-2 hours during the day or awakening to urinate 3-4 times a night. To rated at 40%, there must be “daytime voiding interval [of] less than one hour, or; awakening to void five or more times per night.”
- Urinary Incontinence. How urinary incontinence is rated is dependent on how often a Veteran needs to change absorbent materials like adult diapers or pads due to urine leakage or incontinence:
- Less than 2 times a day 20%
- 2-4 times a day 40%
- More than 4 times a day 60%
What is the link between prostate cancer and Agent Orange?
Questions about the long term effects of contact with Agent Orange arose in the United States when returning Vietnam Veterans and their families began to report a wide ranging list of ailments including diabetes, ischemic heart disease, miscarriages, birth defects, and cancers among many other disabilities. For a long time the federal government maintained that there was no link between these illnesses and exposure to Agent Orange. It took Veterans who served in Vietnam 25 years to get a law that acknowledged their Agent Orange exposure and opened a path for them to get VA disability benefits.
This means that for VA disability cases the VA must assume that Veterans who served in certain locations and during certain time periods were exposed to toxic chemicals like Agent Orange. These Veterans no longer have to provide proof of an in-service event, injury, or illness that led to their disabilities which removes some of the obstacles associated with filing a VA disability claim.
Exposure to Agent Orange has been linked to 17 illnesses including diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, peripheral neuropathy, and prostate cancer.
Which Vietnam War era Veterans are eligible for presumptive condition status?
The PACT Act of 2022 extended the presumption of herbicide exposure to Veterans who had active military, naval, or air service to additional locations. Here is the current list of the specific locations and dates which qualify for presumptive condition status:
- The Republic of Vietnam from January 9, 1962 to May 7, 1975, including Veterans with “boots on the ground”, sailors serving on inland waterways; “blue water” Navy Veterans who served within the 12 nautical mile area offshore; and Veterans who flew in or worked on C-123 aircraft which sprayed Agent Orange during the Vietnam War era;
- Thailand, at any US or Thai base from January 9, 1962 to June 30 1976, without regard to the Veteran’s MOS or where on base they were located;
- Laos from December 1, 1965 to September 30, 1969;
- Cambodia, specifically at Mimot or Krek, Kampong Cham Province from April 16, 1969 to April 30, 1969;
- The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between September 1, 1967 and August 31, 1971;
- Guam or American Samoa or in the territorial waters thereof from January 9, 1962 to July 30, 1980;
- Johnson Atoll or a ship that moored at Johnston Atoll from January 1, 1972 to September 30, 1977.
Can Veterans exposed to burn pits and diagnosed with prostate cancer be granted presumptive-condition status?
With the PACT Act, the federal government increased VA disability eligibility to more Veterans exposed to burn pits during their post 9-11 deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Act added an additional 23 toxic exposure-related conditions to the VA’s list of presumptive conditions. This include reproductive cancers like prostate cancer.
What about Veterans exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune?
Also included in the PACT Act of 2022 is the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which allows Veterans and their families who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune during a 34-year period and suffered illnesses linked to the base’s contaminated water to sue the government for damages. A lengthy list of cancers has been linked to exposure to the toxic water at Camp Lejeune, including prostate cancer.
When should you file a claim for VA benefits?
If you are a Veteran diagnosed with a prostate condition, it may be related to your military service and the time to file your claim is now. The VA accredited disability attorneys at Cuddigan Law have helped thousands of Veterans win the benefits they have rightfully earned. If you have been denied benefits in the past, you may now be eligible because the rules and requirements around VA benefits are constantly changing, especially since the passage of the PACT Act. Contact us at Cuddigan Law for a free, no-strings-attached evaluation of your claim.