Feb 12 2020
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined their Senate colleagues in condemning the Trump Administration for stonewalling critical benefits to Vietnam veterans suffering from health conditions associated with their exposure to Agent Orange. As a result of their service during the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands of veterans, including those who served off the waters of Vietnam, now suffer from diseases linked to Agent Orange and other chemical exposure.
In their letter to President Trump, the Senators specifically called on the Administration to stop denying scientific evidence, and end the years-long delay of adding Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, Parkinsonism, and Hypertension to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) list of service-connected presumptive conditions related to Agent Orange exposure.
“Your Administration’s refusal to add these conditions to the presumptive list continues to deny more than 190,000 sick and aging veterans the health care and compensation they have earned and desperately need,” wrote the Senators. “More than fifty years after their service and sacrifice, these veterans continue to suffer the detrimental effects of their exposure each day. These heroes deserve more than inaction and indecision from their own government— they deserve justice.”
Since the Agent Orange Act of 1991, VA has established a presumption of service-connection for 14 diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) reports. However, in a recent report required by Congress in the Fiscal Year 2020 Appropriations bill, VA called into question the scientific evidence put forth by the National Academies of Medicine (NAM), noting “significant concerns and limitations” in the findings of NASEM scientists. VA also cited additional requirements in the Department’s standards for presumptive conditions, delaying the consideration of care and compensation for thousands of suffering veterans.
“NAM’s reports have been the standard for scientific evidence of association for more than twenty years. But it is now clear that your Administration is intent on changing the rules at the eleventh hour and forcing veterans with Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, Parkinsonism, and Hypertension to meet a different—perhaps unattainable— standard. That is unacceptable,” the Senators continued.
Earlier this week, multiple Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) also weighed in on the issue, condemning the Administration for continuing unnecessary and pernicious delays in justice for Vietnam veterans suffering from service-connected illnesses.
“Mr. President, Vietnam veterans have long suffered from the ill health effects of Agent Orange exposure,” wrote the VSOs. “Thousands have died and many have been left to endure these negative health consequences from diseases that have been scientifically linked to Agent Orange. The continued delayed action by VA is causing additional suffering for Vietnam veterans and their families. We urge you to take action and to end the wait, needless suffering and disappointment for an entire generation of veterans.”
In June 2019, the President signed into law the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, a Warner and Kaine sponsored bill that extended disability and health care benefits to ‘Blue Water’ veterans – veterans who were also afflicted by disease linked to Agent Orange and other chemical exposure while serving off of the waters of Vietnam. In December 2019, Sen. Warner spoke on the Senate floor to urge the Administration to reverse its decision to block Agent Orange benefits while sharing stories of Virginians who continue to live with the effects of their exposure to Agent Orange. Sens. Warner and Kaine also supported the government funding bills that provided $153.6 million to fund VA’s implementation of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act.
In addition to Sens. Warner and Kaine, the letter was led by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and signed by Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Gary Peters (D-MI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-PA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Jack Reed (D-RI).
A copy of the letter can be found here.