(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee yesterday called on the Trump Administration to take action on behalf of thousands of Vietnam Veterans across the country by expanding the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) list of medical conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange to include Parkinsonism, Bladder Cancer, Hypertension, and Hypothyroidism.
Tester took to the Senate floor in support of an effort to expand the list of medical conditions for veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
“By denying the folks who have suffered from exposure eligibility for the benefits and care they need, they are not doing right by our veterans,” Tester said. “The fact of the matter is that there is no logical behind it— except for the fact that they don’t want to pay for it. This Administration needs to stop ignoring the overwhelming scientific evidence put forth by medical experts, scientists, and veterans. They refuse to expand the list to include these four conditions— Parkinsonism, Bladder Cancer, Hypertension, and Hypothyroidism… So it’s pretty simple. Do the right thing. End the wait for these veterans and their families. These veterans and their families have already sacrificed a greatly. They should not be forced to wait one minute longer.”
Currently, VA provides presumptions for seven of the fourteen health outcomes for which the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) has found a suggestive association between herbicide exposure and a particular medical condition. However, the four aforementioned conditions have yet to be recognized by VA, making it difficult for veterans to receive care and benefits for these illnesses. In fact, hypertension is now recognized by NAM as having sufficient association, or an even stronger link, with herbicide exposure. A presumption of exposure means that if a veteran served in a specific area during a defined time frame, VA will presume that they were exposed to certain harmful chemicals or environmental hazards.
In October, Tester led his colleagues on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee in condemning the Trump Administration, following released documents that revealed the White House blocked efforts by VA to expand the list of presumptive health outcomes for Vietnam veterans suffering from service-connected exposure to Agent Orange.
According to internal documents obtained by a veteran through the Freedom of Information Act, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and other White House officials objected to then VA Secretary David Shulkin’s recommendation to add three health conditions — Bladder Cancer, Parkinsonism, and Hypothyroidism — to the list of conditions eligible for Agent Orange benefits in October 2017, denying approximately 83,000 veterans faster access to disability compensation and health benefits.
For years, Tester has fought tirelessly in Congress to get Vietnam-era Veterans the treatment and benefits they earned. In September 2018, Tester led Democratic Senators in detailing the lack of movement from VA on adding health-related outcomes to the presumptive list for herbicide exposure. They also pushed the Department to follow through on self-imposed deadlines, as proposed in a letter sent by Secretary Wilkie at the beginning of this year. In September 2017, Tester led a group of Senators in demanding VA make a decision on the NAM report. He repeated the call to act in March 2018. He additionally urged the Office of Management and Budget to assist VA in expanding the list of presumptive medical conditions in April 2018.