Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, insisted throughout a hearing last week that he and Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie will deliver a solution to extend VA disability benefits and health care to veterans who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam during that war and today have conditions VA presumes are linked to toxic defoliants sprayed on land.
But Wilkie, the only witness at the “State of the VA” hearing, wasn’t prepared to echo the chairman’s assurances. Wilkie didn’t even mention the House-passed Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (HR 299) in his oral statement highlighting priorities for improving VA’s organization and services.
If HR 299 is enacted absent stronger scientific evidence that shipboard veterans were exposed to wartime defoliants, Wilkie wrote, it “would erode confidence in the soundness and fairness of the veterans’ disability benefits system, creating the impression that the system can be gamed by political activism.”
Also, he argued, it would increase pressure on VA to “expand additional presumptions administratively, under a similarly liberal approach, favoring less deserving but politically demanding veterans over more deserving veterans who trust VA to do the right thing for all veterans.”