September/October 2010, Vol. 30, No. 5
BY PATRICK WELCH, CHAIR, GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS COMMITTEE, WITH GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS STAFF
On August 30, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki published the final rules declaring Parkinson’s disease, ischemic heart disease, and hairy cell leukemia as presumptive service-connected conditions for exposure to Agent Orange for Vietnam veterans. VVA applauds Secretary Shinseki and President Obama for moving ahead with the process according to the science and acting in accord with the provisions of the Agent Orange Act of 1991 (Public Law 102-4), despite opposition led by a few Senators who challenge the wisdom of that law. What was interesting was Senators who were not in public life in 1990 or 1991 speaking about what “our” (congressional) intent was when the law was enacted.
The fact remains that Public Law 102-4 has fulfilled much of its promise by getting the focus of the debate about Agent Orange and the other toxins used during the Vietnam War off of straight politics and onto the science. One can argue that there has not been nearly enough science published on Agent Orange and the other toxins of war, and VVA agrees with that premise. In fact, VVA has been pushing hard for more and better research and robust epidemiological studies of Vietnam veterans, our children, and our grandchildren for the better part of two decades.
One should ask where the folks who now say there is not enough science have been.
In September, VVA anticipates that there will be two new pieces of legislation introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate to begin to answer the need for additional research. One bill would create an extramural research program at the VA to fund studies by non-VA researchers on the environmental wounds of war of every generation. The other would focus on the need for both epigenetic studies of birth anomalies in the children and the grandchildren of Vietnam veterans, as well as immediate delivery of desperately needed health care to these progeny of Vietnam veterans.
VVA contends that many Vietnam-era veterans also were exposed in their service elsewhere in Southeast Asia during the war, including in Thailand and Laos, and aboard Navy vessels off the coast of Vietnam, as well as at military bases located in the continental U.S. and its territories. VVA will continue to fight for all who suffer long term health effects as a result of their service to our nation.