Tester Spearheads Senate Call to Ensure his Landmark Agent Orange Exposure Bill is Included in Final Annual Defense Bill

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, is continuing his fight to ensure thousands of veterans suffering from exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam receive the benefits they’ve earned from the Trump Administration.  

“President Trump claims to support our veterans but the shameful reality is that his Administration continues to deny benefits to veterans suffering as a result of their exposure to toxic chemicals in Vietnam,” said Ranking Member Tester. “The truth is that more and more veterans are dying every single day because this Administration refuses to do the right thing and pay for the cost of war. I’ll be continuing to fight tooth and nail until we push this bill across the finish line on behalf of the thousands of veterans who are being ignored by a government unwilling to honor those who’ve bravely served—and sacrificed—for our country.”

Tester led 45 Senators in urging leadership from the Senate and House Armed Services Committees to adopt his amendment requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide benefits to veterans suffering from conditions related to Agent Orange exposure in the final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference report. In July, Tester successfully secured his landmark Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act in the must-pass annual defense bill that passed overwhelmingly by the Senate with a vote of 94-6.

Tester and his colleagues wrote, “It is time for Congress to acknowledge the overwhelming scientific evidence put forth by veterans, scientists and medical experts, and to end the wait for more than 34,000 frustrated and desperate veterans living with and dying from these health conditions. Inclusion of this legislation in the conference agreement for the Fiscal Year 2021 NDAA would be consistent with scientific and historic precedent, and is simply the right thing to do for these veterans and their families.”

“Thousands of Vietnam veterans have suffered the negative long-term health effects of Agent Orange, including diseases like Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism and Parkinsonism,” said National Commander of Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Stephen Whitehead. “While all three conditions have been scientifically linked to Agent Orange exposure almost four years ago, the VA has still not added these conditions to the list of presumptive diseases. It is time to end the wait for these veterans by keeping Amendment No. 1972 in the NDAA. We thank Senator Tester for his commitment to ensure that Vietnam veterans suffering from these three diseases have access to the VA health care and benefits they need and have earned.”

“Vietnam veterans suffering from Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism and Parkinsonism have been subject to years of delays based on calls for further scientific research. The time is now for Congress to enact the Senate NDAA language and make thousands of Vietnam veterans eligible for Agent Orange benefits,” said Director of Veterans and Military Policy for TREA: The Enlisted Association Ken Greenberg. “TREA is grateful for the tireless efforts of Ranking Member Jon Tester and Committee staff to secure Section 1090B and have it included in the final NDAA.”

“The passage of Senator Tester’s bipartisan amendment to add Agent Orange presumptives filled 34,000 veterans suffering from Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism with hope,” said President and CEO of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) Lieutenant General Dana Atkins. “If passed, ill veterans will finally receive the care and benefits they deserve after being exposed to herbicides over 45 years ago. MOAA urges the House conferees to show their support for these veterans and include these presumptives in the final version of the NDAA.”

“Wounded Warrior Project is pleased to support Senator Tester’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) amendment which would require VA to provide benefits on a presumptive basis to veterans suffering from Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism related to Agent Orange exposure,” said Vice President of Government Affairs at the Wounded Warrior Project Jose Ramos. “This amendment will go far in ensuring that VA supports those who have served in the past, as well as those who will serve in the future. We thank the Ranking Member for his diligent work on behalf of veterans of all generations exposed to toxic exposure-related illnesses.”

“Vietnam veterans did their part and served with honor,” said Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Deputy Director Matthew Doyle. “Unfortunately, many of them have lost the fight to the health conditions they developed as a result of their exposure to Agent Orange. The scientific community has already determined that sufficient evidence exists linking Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinson-like symptoms to Agent Orange exposure. The VFW urges Congress to keep the provision to add Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism to the list of presumptive conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange in the NDAA.”

"AMVETS is supportive of all efforts to add Parkinsonism, Bladder Cancer, and Hypothyroidism to the list of presumptive health outcomes for service-connected exposure to Agent Orange,” said AMVETS Executive Director Joe Chenelly. “Tester Amendment No. 1972 would provide health care and disability benefits to more than 34,000 affected veterans who have already waited far too long for this change."

“The Agent Orange Act of 1991 called for a decision by the Secretary no later than 60 days after receiving the IOM’s report and another 60 days after the Secretary’s decision to issue proposed regulations setting forth his determination. This has patently not been followed,” said National President and CEO of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) John Rowan. "These delays continue. We are losing over 500 Vietnam veterans a day, many of them from conditions associated with exposure to dioxin. Further delays are not an option. It’s time for Congress to act.”

“For too long, our Vietnam veterans have had to fight for—and have been denied—the critical health care they need to treat medical conditions resulting from exposure to Agent Orange," said Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford of The American Legion. "We have made significant strides in ensuring that these veterans are given the care they deserve for their service and sacrifice to our nation. However, there is still more work to be done and these veterans continue to suffer the detrimental effects of their exposure each day. The American Legion is proud to support this amendment and believes the evidence overwhelmingly supports adding Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism to the presumptive list.”

"PVA urges House and Senate conferees to retain this language in the fiscal year 2021 NDAA to help ensure Vietnam veterans receive appropriate care and compensation for conditions related to Agent Orange exposure,” said Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Associate Executive Director for Government Relations Heather Ansley. “Adding these three diseases to VA's list of presumptive conditions is the right thing to do for these veterans and their families."

“The more than 5.5 million members represented by the 35 organizations comprising The Military Coalition (TMC) support the addition of the three presumptives connected to Agent Orange exposure,” said TMC President and United States Army Warrant Officers Association (USAWOA) Executive Director Jack Du Teil. “The science has met the evidentiary threshold needed to irrefutably link Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism with exposure to herbicide agents. TMC calls on Congress to pass, and the President to sign, these three presumptives into law in the NDAA.”

Currently, 34,000 Vietnam veterans living with chronic health conditions developed as a result of their service are being denied critical benefits and health care from VA. These veterans have been subject to additional and unwarranted delays as a result of the Trump Administration’s repeated calls for further evaluation of scientific research—even though such research has already been reviewed by the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), which has established the standard for scientific evidence of association for more than twenty years. Tester’s amendment would require VA to provide a presumption of service-connection for Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism—expanding care and benefits for veterans suffering from these three conditions.

For years, Tester has fought tirelessly to push the Trump Administration to provide Vietnam veterans the treatment and benefits they earned. In 2017, he led the charge in urging VA to expand its list of medical conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange. In 2018, he repeated the call and urged the Office of Management and Budget to assist the VA in this effort. Earlier this year, Tester led 42 Senators in blasting the Administration for stonewalling critical benefits for more than 190,000 Vietnam veterans suffering from health conditions connected with their service. He also held a roundtable discussion with Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kans.), stakeholders, and veterans’ advocates to address longstanding issues associated with the effects of toxic exposures on our nation’s servicemembers and veterans.

A copy of the Senators’ letter can be found HERE.