Veteran Heart Disease
Veterans are at increased risk for cardiovascular events, including heart attack, stroke, and congestive heart failure. Service-related stress and exposure to herbicides, including Agent Orange, have been shown to be related to heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions. If you believe your cardiovascular disease is directly related to your time in the service, consider filing a claim for VA disability benefits.
Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term for conditions impacting the heart and blood vessels. It’s the leading cause of death for Americans and the number one reason veterans are hospitalized.
Studies have shown that veterans and heart disease are linked, and veterans may be at higher risk for developing heart complications over time than those who have never served in the military. These results aren’t surprising, given that veterans are more likely to suffer from poor physical and mental health overall.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes the connection between military enlistment and heart-related illnesses, reporting that 382,000 veterans were suffering from service-related diseases of the heart by 2019 and estimating that another 560,000 more may be eligible to receive disability benefits for heart-related conditions based on their exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange.
Any veteran who believes they have a heart condition that may qualify for VA disability should apply for benefits.
Veterans and Heart Disease
Ischemic heart disease causes the hardening of arteries that deliver blood to the heart, resulting in a lack of oxygen and blood flow. It can also lead to an inability to work and permanent disability. Veterans with this diagnosis may be given an ischemic heart disease VA rating and receive disability if the condition is found to be related to their service.
Atherosclerosis is another common cardiovascular ailment that causes fatty plaque deposits to develop on the inner lining of artery walls. When blood flow is restricted, the plaques may burst and cause blood clots to form, leading to heart attack, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.
In addition to ischemic heart disease and atherosclerosis, common heart conditions that veterans face include:
- Cardiac hypertrophy (enlarged heart)
- Acute and chronic congestive heart failure
- Coronary artery disease
- Hypertension/high blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Peripheral vascular disease
Why Do Veterans Experience Heart Disease?
Extreme stress and trauma resulting from military service or combat situations can have profound and long-lasting effects on the heart. More than 60 percent of Americans older than 65 have high blood pressure.
Furthermore, it’s been documented that, during their time of service, many veterans have higher blood pressure readings than the average person. High blood pressure is a risk factor for cardiovascular events.
Depressive symptoms and mental illness brought on by chronic stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, psychosis, and bipolar disorder, have been strongly tied to cardiovascular disease.
Veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder have a nearly 50 percent greater risk for heart failure than someone who has not received that diagnosis. Exposure to severe psychological trauma can be traced back to the development of mental illness and cardiovascular disease during and following military service, leading healthcare providers to recommend treatment of mental health conditions as a preventative measure.
Younger veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder may be at increased risk for future heart disease, as premature cardiac stress speeds up the development of heart conditions.
Post-traumatic stress disorder more than doubles a person’s risk of ischemic heart disease. And the more severe the disorder, the higher the risk. Being female also increases the risk of all cardiovascular diseases when paired with mental illness.
Studies show veterans are more likely than the general population to smoke, and smoking is another risk factor for heart conditions.
Exposure to Agent Orange and Heart Disease
In addition to trauma, age, gender, and tobacco use, there is a positive correlation between veterans exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange and the development of heart-related ailments.
In particular, veterans exposed to herbicides used by the U.S. military to destroy vegetation in the Korean demilitarized zone, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Guam, American Samoa, and other locations are at increased risk for developing ischemic heart disease.
The connection is so strong, in fact, that the VA has classified ischemia as a presumptive condition and assumes that veterans who served in specific locations were exposed to Agent Orange.
Are Cardiovascular Conditions Eligible for VA Disability?
If you have a cardiovascular condition you believe was caused by exposure to Agent Orange, you can request a free Agent Orange Registry Health Exam to find out if you’re eligible to file a claim. Surviving dependent family members of exposed veterans who died of ischemic heart disease may also qualify for benefits.
Even if Agent Orange didn’t cause your heart condition, you might still be eligible to receive VA disability benefits if your illness is found to be related to your military service. The heart conditions that qualify for VA disability depend on situational factors.
How Does a Veteran Qualify for Cardiovascular Disability Benefits?
Veterans who apply for heart-related disability benefits from the VA must prove that their illness or condition resulted from military service.
Your doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant must examine you and complete a disability benefits questionnaire to provide the information the VA needs to make a decision regarding your claim.
In addition to the disability benefits questionnaire, you may be asked to provide the following:
- Medical records, including X-rays, lab reports, and other documentation showing your condition began or worsened because of military service
- A copy of your DD214 or other military separation papers that list the locations where you served
If your heart condition was caused by exposure to Agent Orange, you may be required to submit evidence that links it to exposure — for example, a published research study from a medical journal.
The VA will review the evidence and assign you a disability rating.
VA Heart Disease Ratings
Disability ratings for 2023 range from 10 percent to 100 percent to determine the amount of money you’re eligible to receive.
To determine your rating, the VA reviewer will use metabolic equivalents, called METs, to measure how much energy you expend doing certain physical activities.
Another measure the VA may use in determining heart-related disability claims is left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF), which tells a medical professional how much blood the left ventricle of your heart pumps with each contraction and shows how well the heart is functioning.
Both metabolic equivalents and left ventricular ejection fraction will be given to the VA by your healthcare provider to determine the severity of your heart condition. Each score is compared to the criteria table for cardiovascular disability claims to determine the benefits owed to you.
Apply for VA Benefits
Veterans who believe their cardiovascular condition is linked to their military service can file a claim with the VA to find out if they’re eligible to receive benefits. Even if you’ve applied in the past and have been denied, consider filing a supplemental claim to see if you may qualify under new criteria. Reach out today to begin receiving the compensation you’re owed.
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