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Top Va Lawyer Says U.S. Liable For Smoking Illnesses Of Vets

Wed., July 16, 1997

Veterans would have an improved chance to submit claims for smoking-related illnesses under an opinion released Tuesday by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ top lawyer.

The legal opinion by VA general counsel Mary Lou Keener expanded on a controversial 1993 opinion by her predecessor that held the federal government could be liable for medical care and compensation to millions of veterans who used tobacco while on active duty and subsequently became ill from tobacco-related diseases.

Keener accepted the concept that the government could be liable for smoking-related illnesses and made it easier for older veterans to file claims by classifying nicotine dependence as a “secondary service-connected” condition. Under her decision, veterans or their families will have to show that the service member acquired the nicotine dependence while on active duty and that their illness caused a disability or death.

Ken McKinnon, a VA spokesman, cautioned that the department still believes the government should not have to pay compensation for smoking and is pressing for legislation that would block any new smoking claims. The VA will continue to pay for any smoking-related condition that occurs while a veteran is on active duty or shortly afterward, he said.

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