WASHINGTON – A measure to fast-track benefits to thousands of Vietnam War veterans was added to the annual defense budget this month, giving it an audience with Congress after years of effort.
The measure would approve benefits for Vietnam War veterans suffering form bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension and Parkinson’s-like symptoms – conditions thought to be caused by exposure to the chemical herbicide Agent Orange. The bill would add the diseases to the Department of Veterans Affairs presumptive list, which lowers the amount of proof veterans must provide in order to receive VA benefits.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rep. Josh Harder, D-Calif., pushed to add the measure to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal2021. The NDAA sets the Defense Department’s annual budget and includes a slew of policies for the Pentagon. It’s one of the only major bills that passes reliably through Congress each year, making it a desirable target for lawmakers to attach other measures.
“Justice is long overdue for our aging veterans currently dying from conditions resulting from their exposure to Agent Orange chemicals in Vietnam,” said Tester, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “The reality is that taking care of our veterans is the cost of war — and it must be paid.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced his support for the measure this month. At a news conference on Long Island with Vietnam Veterans of America, Schumer said, “They risked their lives for us in an awful war. Now, they got these diseases because of exposure to Agent Orange. Are we going to back them up? And the answer finally is ‘yes.’”
Veterans have been waiting years for the VA to add the conditions, despite some scientific evidence linking them to Agent Orange exposure.