WASHINGTON — Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie promised Thursday he's not stalling an effort to add four conditions to a list of diseases presumed to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange – a move that would grant benefits to tens of thousands of Vietnam War veterans.
“I place significant emphasis on getting the presumptives for Agent Orange right,” Wilkie told the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “That’s a promise to you. I am doing everything as diligently as I can.”
Some advocates and lawmakers have fought for years to create a fast-track to benefits for Vietnam War veterans suffering from bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension and Parkinson’s-like symptoms. The conditions have yet to be added to a list of diseases presumed to be caused by chemical herbicides used during the conflict, despite reports from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in 2016 and 2018 that described a connection between the diseases and Agent Orange exposure.
Wilkie faced questions Thursday from multiple Democrats who asked why the benefits hadn’t been granted and why they weren’t included in his testimony or President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2021 budget plan for the agency.