Tester, Colleagues Condemn Administration for Ignoring Vietnam Veterans Suffering from Agent Orange

Following damning documents, Senators and Veterans Service Organizations demand immediate action and “no more excuses” for veterans seeking care and benefits for health conditions caused by exposure to toxic herbicides

(U.S. Senate) – Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.), colleagues on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and veterans service organizations (VSOs) are condemning the Trump Administration following released documents revealing that the White House blocked efforts by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to expand the list of presumptive health outcomes for Vietnam veterans suffering from service-connected exposure to Agent Orange. 

According to internal documents obtained by a veteran through the Freedom of Information Act, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and other White House officials objected to VA Secretary David Shulkin’s recommendation to add three health conditions — bladder cancer, Parkinsonism, and hypothyroidism — to the list of conditions eligible for Agent Orange benefits in October 2017, denying approximately 83,000 veterans faster access to disability compensation and health benefits.   

Tester, along with Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) released the following statement: 

“This was not the promise we made to our veterans who sacrificed so much for our country. It has been made abundantly clear that Mick Mulvaney and other White House officials have no reservations about turning their backs on thousands of veterans across the country who are suffering— and dying— from significant health conditions associated with toxic herbicides. For years, this Administration has been denying scientific evidence, refusing to pay for essential care and benefits, and abandoning our aging population of Vietnam-era veterans. No more excuses. We won’t stop fighting until the Trump Administration does right by these veterans, who have waited far too long for the care and benefits they earned.” 

“For over three years, VA has taken no actions on the National Academies 2016 recommendations to add bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinson’s-like syndromes as linked to Agent Orange exposure, nor has VA taken action on the 2018 recommendation to add hypertension as associated with Agent Orange,” said Disabled American Veterans National Commander Stephen Whitehead. “Veterans with these diseases, particularly terminal illnesses like bladder cancer, which are scientifically linked to Agent Orange should not have to wait years, sometimes decades, to receive the full benefits and health care they deserve.  It’s time for the Secretary to follow the scientific recommendations of the National Academies, add these four new presumptives and end the wait for thousands of Vietnam veterans suffering and dying from Agent Orange-related diseases.”

“In light of today’s news regarding the continued delay to add four presumptive diseases to the Agent Orange list, the VFW is extremely upset and dissatisfied with the backdoor political games that are being played in D.C. as the lives of our veterans are at stake,” said Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander-in-Chief William J. “Doc” Schmitz. “The health and welfare of our nation’s veterans should, and must, be our number one priority.” 

“We hold the Office of Management and Budget and its director culpable in the deaths of those Vietnam veterans who went to their graves waiting for their government to do the right thing and grant service-connection for exposure to Agent Orange and other rainbow agents, as recommended by the VA Secretary based on findings of the Institute of Medicine,” said Vietnam Veterans of America National President John Rowan.

Currently, VA provides presumptions for seven of the twelve health outcomes for which the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) has found a suggestive association between herbicide exposure and a particular medical condition. However, the above-named conditions have yet to be recognized by VA. In fact, hypertension is now recognized by NAM as having positive association, or an even stronger link, with herbicide exposure. A presumption of exposure means that if a veteran served in a specific area during a defined time frame, VA will presume that they were exposed to certain harmful chemicals or environmental hazards.

For years, Tester has fought tirelessly in Congress to make sure Vietnam veterans get the treatment and benefits they have earned. In September 2018, Tester led Democratic Senators in detailing the lack of movement from VA on adding health-related outcomes to the presumptive list for herbicide exposure. They also pushed the Department to follow through on self-imposed deadlines, as proposed in a letter sent by Secretary Wilkie at the beginning of this year. In September 2017, Tester led a group of Senators in demanding the VA make a decision on the Academy’s report. He repeated the call to act in March 2018. In April 2018, Tester urged the Office of Management and Budget to assist the VA in expanding the list of presumptive medical conditions.

Additionally, Tester called on the Trump Administration to provide long-overdue health care and benefits to Vietnam-era veterans living with exposure to Agent Orange. He also successfully fought to include his Occupational and Environmental Transparency Health (OATH) Act into the annual must-pass defense bill, bipartisan legislation requiring DOD to track servicemembers exposures to toxic chemicals in their individual medical records. And, his bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 extending VA benefits to veterans who served off the shores of Vietnam, was signed into law on June, 26, 2019.