(U.S. Senate) – Following years-long efforts by Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester to expand toxic-exposed veterans’ access to earned health care and benefits, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today moved to expand the locations and time frames for which VA presumes a veterans’ exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides. This change will make it easier for veterans exposed to Agent Orange during their military service to receive their earned VA benefits and health care.
VA’s move to expand toxic-exposed benefits for veterans follows Tester’s Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, which expanded the list of locations where VA must recognize veterans were exposed to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange. The PACT Act also provided VA resources and authorities it is now using to further expand that list. Prior to the PACT Act, eligibility for presumption of exposure was limited to Vietnam and limited areas in Thailand and Korea.
“Every veteran exposed to toxins during their military service deserves access to the health care and benefits they earned and were promised,” Tester said. “We fought like hell alongside veterans to get the PACT Act passed to ensure this for generations of toxic-exposed veterans, and I’m glad to see VA is now using this law to add new presumptive benefits for veterans exposed to Agent Orange outside of Vietnam. I’ll keep looking to VA to implement this law the way Congress intended and the way our veterans deserve.”
VA’s new proposal would give expanded presumptive benefits to veterans who served in locations where Agent Orange was tested, used, or stored outside Vietnam, including locations in Canada, India, and military locations in 12 U.S. states, including Montana.
Tester championed the PACT Act and shepherded its passage through Congress in 2022. As Chairman, he fought tirelessly for years alongside veterans and Veterans Service Organizations in Montana and across the nation to deliver generations of toxic-exposed veterans and survivors their earned care and benefits under the PACT Act. Named after Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson who died in 2020 from toxic exposure as a result of his military service, this law provides health care for Post-9/11 combat veterans, creates a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure, expands the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) list of health conditions presumed to be caused by toxic exposures, which opens the door to additional benefits for veterans, and improves resources to support claims processing.
A long-time champion of expanding Agent Orange toxic-exposed veterans’ access to the care and benefits they earned, Tester authored and passed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act in 2019 to expand VA health care and benefits for veterans exposed to Agent Orange off the shores of Vietnam. He also successfully secured his Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act to establish a presumption of service connection for more than 34,000 veterans with Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism.