Multiple myeloma is one of a number of conditions linked to exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides. It is a form of cancer that attacks your plasma cells and leads to a weakened immune system. As an “Agent Orange presumptive disease,” multiple myeloma is presumed to have been caused by exposure to Agent Orange during a veteran’s time of service, so that affected veterans are not required to prove service connection when seeking disability benefits.
The Health and Medicine Division (HMD) of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has upheld its view on the positive link between Agent Orange and multiple myeloma in every update of its original 1994 report “Veterans and Agent Orange: Health Effects of Herbicides Used in Vietnam.” This view has continued to inform the VA’s acknowledgment of the adverse health effects of Agent Orange on service members.
What is Multiple Myeloma?
While it’s unclear what causes multiple myeloma, the effect is the same. The cancer starts when plasma cells, a type of antibody-producing white blood cell, become abnormal and continue reproducing more abnormal cells. The body can’t use these cells, but since the cells won’t go through their normal lifecycle and die off, they accumulate in the bone marrow, crowding out healthy blood cells, weakening your immune system, and bringing on fatigue. It may lead to even further complications, including frequent illness brought about by your weakened immune system, bone problems, kidney malfunction or failure, and anemia.
Risk factors include older age, with 65 being the median age for diagnosis. Men are also more likely than women to contract it. A connection to monoclonal gammopathy (MGUS) has also been found. MGUS is a relatively benign condition characterized by the presence of proteins in the blood made by abnormal plasma cells which may develop into multiple myeloma.
Symptoms may not show up early on in your illness, and when they do, they are wide-ranging. They include bone pain (particularly in your spine and chest), nausea, constipation, loss of appetite, mental fogginess and confusion, fatigue, frequent infections, weight loss, weakness or numbness in your legs, and excessive thirst.
Multiple myeloma is treatable, but the average 5-year survival rate is 30%. Even if the myeloma goes into remission, maintenance therapy may be necessary to keep the symptoms at bay. Treatment approaches include targeted drug therapy, biological therapy, chemotherapy, corticosteroids, bone marrow transplant, or radiation therapy. In some cases, if your condition is asymptomatic (also known as smoldering multiple myeloma), your doctor will hold off on treatment altogether and continue to regularly monitor your situation.
The Agent Orange Connection
Multiple myeloma is a serious illness that can lead to complications and put your life at great risk, so veterans who have been exposed to Agent Orange would do best to avail themselves of the disability benefits and healthcare available through the VA. Under diagnostic code 7712, the VA rates symptomatic multiple myeloma at 100%, and will continue to do so until five years after the initial diagnosis, after which a mandatory VA examination is conducted to reevaluate your condition.
VA Claims and Appeals
If you’re a veteran, or the surviving spouse or dependent of a veteran, and are struggling with the claims process or need to make an appeal for a diagnosis of multiple myeloma, don’t hesitate to reach out to VA Disability Group PLLC at 844-VET-LAWS. We are available to get your claim back on track and get you the VA disability benefits needed for a multiple myeloma diagnosis immediately.