BREAKING: Tester’s Landmark Bill to Provide Benefits to Vets Exposed to Agent Orange Passes Senate

After urging support for his amendment on the Senate floor, Senator successfully passes legislation as part of the must-pass annual defense bill

(U.S. Senate) – Vietnam veterans suffering from diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange are one step closer to receiving critical care and benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) following sustained efforts from U.S. Senator Jon Tester to include his bipartisan legislation in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – a must-pass annual defense bill.

Tester took to the Senate floor earlier today to urge his colleagues to support his amendment which would expand VA’s list of medical conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange to include Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism—health conditions that each meet the historical standard for being added to the presumptive list for service-connection as it relates to Agent Orange exposure.

“This is a historic win for thousands of Vietnam veterans who have been suffering from illnesses after being exposed to Agent Orange, but who have been unjustly denied benefits for decades,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “With the inclusion of my amendment in this must-pass defense bill, we are now one step closer to providing our Vietnam War heroes with the treatment and benefits they deserve from VA. But our fight is far from over—taking care of our veterans is a continuing cost of war, and we’ve got to keep extending the list of presumptive conditions to support an entire population of veterans living with other debilitating illnesses as a result of their service.”

Currently, thousands of 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.

“The long-term negative health effects of Agent Orange have devastated thousands of Vietnam veterans,” said Stephen Whitehead, National Commander of Disabled American Veterans (DAV). “Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism and Parkinsonism have all been scientifically linked to Agent Orange exposure, yet VA has not taken action on these three diseases in almost four years. DAV supports Senate Amendment No. 1972 in the NDAA, which would provide presumptive service connection for these conditions. Vietnam veterans and their families need the Senate to pass this amendment now to ensure access to VA health care and benefits.”

“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. 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. This amendment would provide a presumption of service-connection for Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism for veterans exposed to certain herbicide agents while serving in Vietnam,” said James W. “Bill” Oxford, National Commander for The American Legion. “The American Legion is proud to support this amendment and believes the evidence overwhelmingly supports adding these diseases to the presumptive list.”

“Vietnam veterans did their part and served with honor,” said Matthew Doyle, Deputy Director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). “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 inclusion of Amendment No. 1972 in the FY2021 NDAA, which would add these disorders to the list of presumptive conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange.”

"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 Joe Chenelly, Executive Director of AMVETS. “Tester Amendment No. 1972 would provide health care and disability benefits to more than 20,000 affected veterans who have already waited too long for this change.”

“PVA endorses this effort to ensure Vietnam veterans receive appropriate care and compensation for conditions related to Agent Orange exposure,” said Roscoe Butler, Associate Legislative Director of Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). “Adding these three diseases to VA's list of presumptive conditions is the right thing to do for these veterans and their families."

“I’m heartened to see that Congress is not forgetting our Vietnam veterans,” said Lieutenant General Dana Atkins, President and CEO of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). “As a nation, we must ensure all our veterans are taken care of when they experience negative health consequences like toxic exposures from their service. When illnesses like Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinson’s-like symptoms meet the scientific standards to be connected with Agent Orange, we must add them to the list of presumptives. Tens of thousands of veterans are suffering from these illnesses. I’m glad to see this year’s NDAA includes Sen. Tester’s amendment so Congress can provide the benefits and compensation our veterans deserve.”

“The Agent Orange Act of 1991 called for a decision by the Secretary no later than 60 days after receiving the Institute of Medicine’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 John Rowan, National President and CEO of Vietnam Veterans of America. “Now the current VA Secretary wants to wait until the end of calendar 2020. This is unacceptable. 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.”

“Within one hour of alerting our membership, hundreds of TREA members wrote to their Senators in support of this critical amendment – making thousands of Vietnam veterans eligible for Agent Orange benefits,” said Ken Greenberg, Director of Veterans and Military Policy for TREA: The Enlisted Association. “TREA is grateful for the tireless efforts of Ranking Member Jon Tester and Committee staff to secure Amendment No. 1972 in the NDAA.”