Dec 18 2019
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) took to the Senate floor today to draw attention to the plight of Vietnam-era veterans who are struggling to get veterans benefits for illnesses related to toxic herbicide Agent Orange. In his speech, Warner called on the Trump Administration to reverse its decision to block an expansion of approved Agent Orange–related conditions that automatically qualify a veteran for benefits.
According to documents obtained by the Military Times, in early 2018 White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney blocked a request by then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin to add three medical conditions (bladder cancer, Parkinson’s-like symptoms and hypothyroidism) to the list of approved Agent Orange–related conditions. The documents reveal that an estimated 83,000 veterans would have been made eligible for coverage if the decision had gone through.
“There is more than enough evidence to expand the list of Agent Orange–related conditions. We should be thanking these veterans for their service, not nickel and diming them,” said Sen. Warner on the Senate floor. “I urge my colleagues to listen to the veterans in their states. And I urge the White House to let the V-A provide these veterans with the benefits they’ve earned.”
In his remarks, Warner also shared the stories of two Hampton Roads veterans, William Badgett and Sam Harvey, and one Richmond-area veteran, Dorman Watts of North Chesterfield, VA. In recent months, Sen. Warner’s office has helped these veterans with their Department of Veterans Affairs (V-A) claims related to Agent Orange.
“My office hears regularly from veterans facing health problems like prostate cancer… like Parkinson’s… and other conditions that have been linked to Agent Orange. Time and again we hear how the V-A tries to deny benefits on the basis of a technicality,” continued Sen. Warner. “Mr. President, this is just not right. Unfortunately, this administration is far from the first to ignore the evidence about Agent Orange in order to save a few bucks.”
From 1962 to 1975, the U.S. Military sprayed over 20 million gallons of Agent Orange across Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. This toxic chemical had devastating health effects on millions of American service members in Southeast Asia, as well as to the civilians who were exposed. In 1991, Congress passed a law requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide presumptive coverage to all Vietnam veterans with illnesses that the Institute of Medicine has directly linked to Agent Orange exposure, including those who were stationed on ships off the Vietnamese coast, also known as Blue Water Navy veterans. In June, the President signed into law the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, a Warner-sponsored bill that ended the exclusion of these “Blue Water” veterans. This bipartisan legislation clarified the existing law so that Blue Water Navy veterans will be granted V-A coverage equitable to those who are already covered.
Congress is poised to vote on appropriations legislation this week that will provide $153.6 million to fund the V-A’s implementation of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act. That funding package also includes language requiring the V-A to report to Congress within 30 days 1) the reason for the two-year delay in expanding the presumptive list; 2) a cost estimate for adding new diseases; and 3) the date the VA plans to implement a decision.
Sen. Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery can be found below:
Mr. President, I rise today to draw attention to a group of veterans who served this country decades ago, but who continue to suffer to this day as a result of their service. I’m talking about the hundreds of thousands of veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during their service.
From 1962 to 1975, the U.S. sprayed over 20 million gallons of Agent Orange across Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
Millions of our service members, not to mention Vietnamese civilians, were exposed.
Fifty years later, hundreds of thousands of Vietnam-era veterans are still paying the price.
From the start, the federal government has tried to slow-walk attempts to cover the care these veterans earned. It wasn’t until 1991 that the VA recognized the connection… between Agent Orange exposure and several diseases and conditions, finally allowing these veterans to seek medical treatment from the VA.
Currently the list of conditions recognized by the VA stands at 14. But the science tells us that the list is far from complete.
In 2017, then-Veterans Affairs Secretary Shulkin called for three more conditions to be added to the list: bladder cancer, underactive thyroid, and Parkinson’s-like symptoms.
Now, these weren’t randomly chosen. They were conditions found by the National Academy of Science… to be connected to Agent Orange exposure.
The science was there, the VA was there. Yet, the White House and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney have blocked this effort to expand the list of conditions.
Do you know what the deciding factor was? It wasn’t the scientific evidence. It wasn’t the advice of VA doctors.
No, Mr. Mulvaney decided that the cost of providing care to 83,000 veterans suffering from these conditions was just too high.
And for that, Mr. President, this administration turned its back on 83,000 veterans who answered the call to serve.
Unfortunately, this is just the latest example of the federal government trying to avoid paying for the care…of men and women our nation sent to war. My office hears regularly from veterans facing health problems… like prostate cancer… like Parkinson’s… and other conditions that have been linked to Agent Orange.
Time and again we hear how the VA tries to deny benefits on the basis of a technicality.
Mr. President, this is just not right. Unfortunately, this administration is far from the first to ignore the evidence about Agent Orange in order to save a few bucks.
I want to share a few stories from my state of Virginia, which more than 204,000 Vietnam-era veterans currently call home. In many cases, veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange have been fighting multiple administrations to get these life-or-death benefits that they earned decades ago.
One veteran, William Badgett, of Hampton, Virginia, was exposed to Agent Orange during his service in Vietnam with the Army.
He was in the 101st Airborne, 1st cavalry… where he served as a helicopter mechanic and supply sergeant. He has been diagnosed with a number of health conditions, including enlarged prostate, osteoporosis, kidney disease, and hardened arteries – none of which are on the VA’s presumptive list.
While the VA considers prostate cancer to be on the list, Mr. Badgett’s enlarged prostate is not presumed by the VA… to be connected to his exposure to Agent Orange… because it is not cancer.
Sam Harvey from Newport News, VA was exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1966 to 1970 aboard the USS Constellation.
He was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer. Yet despite prostate cancer being on the presumptive list, he has struggled to get VA approval for the treatment he needs.
Finally, I want to talk about Dorman Watts from North Chesterfield, VA, a Vietnam veteran, who has struggled for years…to get the disability rating from the VA… that would qualify him for comprehensive healthcare from the VA.
He has prostate cancer and heart disease and is currently undergoing radiation treatment from a private provider.
Mr. President, this is unacceptable. That’s why I’m glad that Congress included important accountability measures, as part of the defense appropriations legislation we passed this week.
Finally, after years of reluctance, years of ignoring the science, these veterans are going to get some answers about the conditions that resulted from their service.
Mr. President, there is more than enough evidence to expand the list of Agent-Orange-related conditions. We should be thanking these veterans for their service, not nickel and diming them.
I urge my colleagues to listen to the veterans in their states. And I urge the White House to let the VA provide these veterans with the benefits they’ve earned.
Thank you, Mr. President.