VA Secretary David Shulkin suggests he favors expansion of Agent Orange-related health care and disability compensation to new categories of ailing veterans but that factors like cost, medical science and politics still stand in the way.
Shulkin told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday that he made recommendations to White House budget officials last year on whether to add up to four more conditions -- bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, Parkinson-like tremors and hypertension (high blood pressure) -- to the VA list of 14 illnesses presumed caused by exposure to herbicides used during the Vietnam War.
“I have transmitted my recommendations to the [White House’s] Office of Management and Budget. I did that by Nov. 1st”, Shulkin said. “And we are in the process right now of going through this data. In fact, we met with [OMB officials] on Monday. They asked for some additional data to be able to work through the process and be able to get financial estimates for this. So, we are committed to working with OMB to get this resolved in the very near future.”
Shulkin didn’t say which of the four conditions, if any, he wants added to the presumptive list, if and when cleared by the White House.
At the same hearing, the VA chief was asked his position on Blue Water Navy veterans of the Vietnam War who also suffer from illnesses on the VA presumptive list but aren’t eligible to use it to facilitate claims for care and compensation.
They “have waited too long for this,” Shulkin agreed, but then suggested the solution for these veterans is blocked by medical evidence or swings on the will of the Congress.
“I would like to try to find a way where we can resolve that issue for them, rather than make them continue to wait,” Shulkin said. “I do not believe there will be scientific data [to] give us a clear answer, like we do have on the Agent Orange presumptive” list for veterans who had served in-country. “For the Blue Water Navy…epidemiologic studies just aren’t available from everything I can see. So, we’re going to have sit down and do what we think is right for these veterans.”