VA to Automatically Review Agent Orange Veterans’ Claims Following Bipartisan Push from Tester, Moran

(U.S. Senate) – Following a bipartisan push from Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced its plans to automatically review disability claims benefits for veterans suffering from Parkinsonism, bladder cancer, and hypothyroidism—three presumptive conditions related to their exposure to Agent Orange.

“I appreciate VA Secretary McDonough’s leadership on this critical issue, and for rightly answering our call to automatically review previously rejected claims of Vietnam-era veterans, who for years have been denied justice for their exposure to Agent Orange,” said Chairman Tester. “While this is a step in the right direction, veterans deserve a comprehensive toxic exposure framework that is timely, grounded in science, transparent and responsive to the needs of every man and woman impacted by the effects of toxic exposure during their military service.”

“Today’s announcement from VA affirms the department’s responsibility to address toxic exposures and its ability to act proactively on the issue,” said Ranking Member Moran. “Secretary McDonough has made it clear that VA has both the authority and primary responsibility to make decisions regarding presumptions for service connection based on sound scientific evidence. Our committee has demonstrated its commitment to addressing these issues for the benefit of veterans, and we stand ready to provide bipartisan oversight and any needed legislation to make certain those benefits are timely and meaningful. Veterans of all eras expect that attentiveness from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, so I applaud Secretary McDonough for his leadership on these important first steps.” 

In March, Tester and Moran sent a bipartisan letter calling on VA Secretary Denis McDonough to provide the Department’s estimated timeline for completing initial processing of Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act claims, and plans for adhering to the Nehmer v. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs consent decree and implementing the three conditions added to the list of presumptions through the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.

In today’s announcement, VA confirmed that it will apply the provisions of court orders related to Nehmer v. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Vietnam-era veterans and their survivors, who previously filed and were denied benefits for one of these three new presumptive conditions, will have their cases automatically reviewed without the need to refile a claim. Affected veterans and survivors will receive letters from VA informing them of their claims status. The Department also announced that it initiated rulemaking to consider adding respiratory conditions, which may include asthma, sinusitis, and rhinitis, to the list of chronic disabilities, based on an association with military service in Southwest Asia, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan during the covered periods of conflict.