Senators are once again urging Department of Veterans Affairs leaders to expand care and benefits to thousands more veterans ill from Agent Orange exposure. This time, for veterans with high blood pressure linked to the toxic herbicide.
Last year, Congress approved adding three new illnesses to a list of conditions VA recognizes as connected to Agent Orange and therefore provides care and benefits for -- bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinson's-like symptoms. But just before leaving office in January, Trump administration VA officials said the about 34,000 veterans affected may not see benefits from Congress' action for months or even years.
VA disagrees with scientists’ findings linking 4 more diseases to Agent Orange exposure
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, had been a fourth condition lawmakers, advocates and veterans pushed for Congress to include, but ultimately was left out, and Congressional staff with knowledge of those negotiations told Connecting Vets cost was a leading factor. Estimates suggest the expansion of benefits could cost as much as $11 billion to $15 billion over the first 10 years.
VA officials under the Trump administration argued against adding hypertension to the list because of continued doubts about its link to Agent Orange, despite the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in 2018 finding "sufficient" evidence to connect the two. VA argued it needed to continue to conduct its own studies on all four conditions before making a decision, and the results of those studies (due by the end of 2020, then delayed by the coronavirus pandemic to mid-2021) have not yet been publicly released.