In Washington, some lawmakers are calling for research into whether Agent Orange and other toxic substances are responsible for the health problems of veterans’ children and grandchildren.
The Toxic Exposure Research Act is the latest incarnation of a bill that would establish a research center within the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated the cost of establishing the center at $74 million over the next four years.
Supporters come from both parties and include about half of the members of Congress. In the House, all Nebraska and Iowa representatives are co-sponsors except for Adrian Smith, R-Neb. In the Senate, Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is the only one from Nebraska or Iowa who has signed on.
The Vietnam Veterans of America is one veterans group that is pushing hard to pass the bill to spur Agent Orange research.
“Without the scientific proof,” said Mokie Pratt Porter, the group’s communications director, “we can’t get off ground zero.”
VA officials say they support more research but don’t agree that their agency is the right one to study next-generation health impacts, because the VA lacks experience with children’s health issues.
“We don’t have a lot of pediatricians on our staff,” said Dr. Ralph Erickson, the VA’s post-deployment health consultant. “The National Institutes of Health probably should have the lead in this type of research.”
That’s the reason U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., hasn’t signed on.
“She remains committed to ensuring our veterans receive the care they need,” said Tom Doheny, Fischer’s communications director, but he said she would like lawmakers to explore the details further.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., supports the bill’s goals and is reviewing it, a spokesman said.