Tester to VA: ‘End the Wait’ for Vietnam Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange
(U.S. Senate) – Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Jon Tester (D-Mont.) today held a press conference, along with House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.), veterans service organizations (VSOs), veterans, and their families, urging the Trump Administration to provide long-overdue health care and benefits to Vietnam-era veterans living with exposure to Agent Orange. Tester also called on VA to expand the list of presumptive health outcomes for veterans suffering from chronic conditions related to herbicide exposure.
“There is no reason why Blue Water Navy veterans can’t get their benefits,” said Tester. “These folks served, they were impacted by their service, and their benefits need to be there. It’s an obligation we had as a country— and we’ve done our job in Congress. The courts have done their job. Now, VA needs to provide the benefits. As far as I’m concerned, they should start right away.”
Members of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), who helped host and organize the event, along with Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), and others joined the press conference to advocate on behalf of Vietnam-era veterans.
"It is important that we continue to fight for our Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans who have been wrongly denied for decades VA recognition of their exposure to Agent Orange and the many presumptive service-connected illnesses, benefits, and health care they earned through service to our great nation,” Shane Liermann, DAV Deputy National Legislative Director for Benefits. “DAV and our VSO partners call on the President to overrule the VA Secretary and lift the stay on Blue Water Navy veterans claims, beginning with hardship cases of veterans who are 85 years or older, have a terminal illness, or who are financially destitute.”
“The VFW calls on Secretary Wilkie to lift the stay on processing Blue Water Navy claims,” said Ryan Gallucci, VFW National Veterans Service Director. “For too many terminally ill Vietnam veterans, a few more months is a few too many. Just like the courts said after the Procopio decision, there’s no reason that certain Blue Water Navy claims cannot be processed immediately. Our Blue Water Navy veterans have waited years to receive the benefits they deserve, and they should not have to wait a single day more.”
“Our Vietnam veterans, on average, are 73 years old. Time is of the essence, as a grant of benefits can mean life-saving healthcare,” said Rick Weidman, VVA Executive Director for Policy and Government Affairs. “We call on VA Secretary Wilke to vacate his July 1, 2019, determination on the implementation of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, staying all Blue Water Navy claims until January 1, 2020. There is no reason for delay. The Veterans Benefits Administration has had the process and procedures in place to apply Procopio since June 4, 2019. The saying ‘delay, deny, and hope they die’ is the unfortunate reality for our veterans and their families who continue to suffer from the lethal effects of Agent Orange. How many veterans have died waiting? What about their widows, when will they receive their benefits? We need to move ahead now before too many more die of this war-inflicted wound.”
Additional speakers included Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veteran Bobby Daniels and Claudia Holt, a widow of deceased Blue Water Navy Veteran Frank Holt.
“My biggest fear is not losing my battle with cancer, it’s leaving my wife behind,” shared Bobby Daniels. “I truly do not understand how VA can do this to veterans. We should be spending our remaining time focusing on our families, not worrying if we will leave them unable to support themselves once we’re gone.
“I am 78 years old,” Claudia Holt stated. “I’m worried about how I will pay my bills, worried about whether or not I’ll lose my home. I’m worried because I can’t get an answer from VA. I’ve already lost my husband. How much more will I have to lose until VA makes a decision?”
Tester’s bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 was signed into law on June, 26, 2019. Although the legislation does not go into effect until January 1, 2020, Blue Water Navy veterans who served within Vietnam’s territorial waters are currently eligible for benefits under the Procopio v Wilkie ruling. Since the bill’s passage, Tester has called on the Administration to continue expediently processing the claims of veterans already eligible for VA benefits, instead of issuing a needless stay. Tester has also urged VA to take action on behalf of thousands of veterans across the country living with chronic health conditions, by expanding the Department’s list of presumptive medical conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange including Parkinsonism, Bladder Cancer, Hypertension, and Hypothyroidism.