February 12, 2020

Manchin Leads Colleagues In Advocating For Veterans With Issues Related To Agent Orange Exposure

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) today led 42 Democratic Senators in advocating for the Trump Administration to add health conditions so Vietnam Veterans suffering from health conditions associated with their exposure to Agent Orange can receive critical benefits. In their letter, the Senators specifically called on the Administration to end the years-long delay of adding Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, Parkinsonism, and Hypertension to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) list of service-connected presumptive conditions.

In 2018, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAESM) released a report which highlighted evidence that these four conditions were associated with Veterans’ service and Agent Orange, and recommended that those affected should be considered eligible for benefits. However in October 2019 email communications between the VA and the Administration revealed that the delays were at the request of Mick Mulvaney and White House advisors who were reportedly concerned about the potential costs of adding conditions to the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list.

“Your Administration’s refusal to add these conditions to the presumptive list continues to deny more than 190,000 sick and aging Veterans the health care and compensation they have earned and desperately need,” wrote the Senators. “More than fifty years after their service and sacrifice, these Veterans continue to suffer the detrimental effects of their exposure each day. These heroes deserve more than inaction and indecision from their own government— they deserve justice.”

Since the Agent Orange Act of 1991, VA has established a presumption of service-connection for 14 diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure from the NAESM reports. However, in a recent report required by Congress in the Fiscal Year 2020 Appropriations bill, VA called into question the scientific evidence put forth by the National Academies of Medicine (NAM), noting “significant concerns and limitations” in the findings of NAESM scientists. VA also cited additional requirements in the Department’s standards for presumptive conditions, delaying the consideration of care and compensation for thousands of suffering Veterans.

The Senators continued, NAM’s reports have been the standard for scientific evidence of association for more than twenty years. But it is now clear that your Administration is intent on changing the rules at the eleventh hour and forcing Veterans with Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, Parkinsonism, and Hypertension to meet a different—perhaps unattainable— standard. That is unacceptable.”

To read the Senators’ letter please click here.

Veterans Service Organizations additionally weighed in on the issue, condemning the Administration for continuing unnecessary and pernicious delays in justice for Vietnam Veterans suffering from service-connected illnesses. Their letter to President Trump can be read here.

Thousands of Veterans like Arnold Meadows, a 74-year-old Air Force Vietnam Veteran who from Beaver, West Virginia, continue to live with the effects of his exposure to Agent Orange. Decades after his service, Arnold was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a health condition not currently recognized as service-connected illnesses by the VA. Ending the delay of presumptive Agent Orange benefits will help give Mr. Meadows and his family peace of mind and the help needed to manage his condition.  

In addition to Senator Manchin, the letter was signed by Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Gary Peters (D-MI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-PA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mark Warner (D-VA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Jack Reed (D-RI).