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Medicine (Baltimore). 2018 May;97(19):e0662. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000010662.

Impact of presumed service-connected diagnosis on the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare utilization patterns of Vietnam-Theater Veterans: A cross-sectional study.

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War Related Illness and Injury Study Center, VA-New Jersey Healthcare System 385 Tremont Avenue, East Orange, NJ.
Department of Epidemiology, Rutgers School of Public Health.
New Jersey Medical School, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey 185 South Orange Avenue, MSB, Newark, NJ.


During the Vietnam War, the US military sprayed almost 20 million gallons of Agent Orange (AO), an herbicide contaminated with dioxin, over Vietnam. Approximately, 2.7 million US military personnel may have been exposed to AO during their deployment. Ordinarily, veterans who can demonstrate a nexus between a diagnosed condition and military service are eligible for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) service-connected disability compensation. Vietnam Veterans have had difficulty, however, establishing a nexus between AO exposure and certain medical conditions that developed many years after the war. In response, VA has designated certain conditions as "presumed service connected" for Vietnam Veterans who were present and possibly exposed. Veterans with any of these designated conditions do not have to document AO exposure, making it easier for them to access the VA disability system. The extent to which VA healthcare utilization patterns reflect easier access afforded those with diagnosed presumptive conditions remains unknown. In this cross-sectional study, we hypothesized that Vietnam Veterans with diagnosed presumptive conditions would be heavier users of the VA healthcare system than those without these conditions. In our analysis of 85,699 Vietnam Veterans, we used binary and cumulative logit multivariable regression to assess associations between diagnosed presumptive conditions and VA healthcare utilization in 2013. We found that diagnosed presumptive conditions were associated with higher odds of 5+ VHA primary care visits (OR = 2.01, 95% CI: 1.93-2.07), 5+ specialty care visits (OR = 2.11, 95% CI: 2.04-2.18), emergency department use (OR = 1.22, 95% CI: 1.11-1.34), and hospitalization (OR = 1.23, 95% CI: 1.17-1.29). Consistent with legislative intent, presumptive policies appear to facilitate greater VA system utilization for Vietnam Veterans who may have been exposed to AO.

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