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Heinrich Supports Legislation Directing VA To Provide Benefits For Veterans Suffering From Agent Orange Exposure

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and a bicameral coalition of congressional colleagues have introduced the Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act of 2020, which would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide benefits for veterans suffering from four diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange.

Currently, veterans with specific health conditions developed as a result of their exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War are eligible for benefits and health care from VA. However, the Trump Administration continues to deny coverage for approximately 190,000 veterans struggling with Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, Parkinsonism, and Hypertension—four conditions scientifically proven to have an association with exposure to the toxic herbicide. The Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act of 2020, led by Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.), would add these illnesses to VA’s list of service-connected presumptive conditions and provide essential benefits and care to Vietnam veterans.

“We owe all of our veterans who put their lives on the line to defend us the best possible medical care, based on the best available science. That’s why I was so appalled to learn that tens of thousands of Vietnam Veterans suffering from diseases related to Agent Orange exposure have been given short shrift by President Trump’s Department of Veterans Affairs. That includes New Mexico veterans who my office has worked with who have suffered and died from Agent Orange-related diseases that the Trump administration is not allowing the VA to treat,” said Heinrich. “The Trump administration's callous efforts to deny these veterans the care they need are outrageous. I've been leading the effort in New Mexico to secure critical benefits for Vietnam Veterans suffering from health conditions associated with their exposure to Agent Orange and am proud to support this legislation and make this a reality. It is time to stop denying scientific evidence and expand the VA's list of medical conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange.”

Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) have been outspoken critics of the continued delays in justice for Vietnam veterans suffering from service-connected illnesses. They continue to be Congress’ top ally and strongest advocates in expanding VA’s list of presumptive conditions:

“Vietnam veterans did our part. After winning every battle they fought while they were in Vietnam, many of them have lost their fight to the horrible health conditions they received from Agent Orange exposure,” said Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Commander-in-Chief William J. “Doc” Schmitz. “It’s unacceptable that the list of conditions presumed to be associated with Agent Orange exposure does not include Bladder Cancer, Parkinson-like symptoms, Hypertension, and the other conditions that the scientists have said are connected to military service. The VFW is proud to support the Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act of 2020, which would correct this wrong.”

“Caring for those who were wounded in service of our country is one of our most sacred duties,” said President and CEO of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) Lieutenant General Dana Atkins. “Scientific evidence linking the four presumptives with Agent Orange exists and should be accepted. Exposure to Agent Orange is credibly associated with Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, Parkinson-like symptoms, and Hypertension in our Vietnam veterans. We must act and ensure these veterans receive the care they need. MOAA appreciates the continued Congressional focus on this issue and we will continue to work until all 190,000 affected veterans receive the care and support they earned.”

“The Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act of 2020 is an essential component of the agreement our nation made with these veterans when they took an oath,” said AMVETS National Commander Jan Brown. “Veterans wrote a check with their lives and Congress vowed to take care of them when they returned home. Reportedly, VA is already treating 1,404 Vietnam-era veterans for Parkinsonism, 5,836 for Bladder Cancer, 15,657 for Hypothyroidism and 308,329 for Hypertension. It’s time to expand the exposure list to include these diseases, and this Act deserves as much support as can be mustered.”

“Vietnam War veterans have already given so much to their country,” said American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford. “Now, almost 50 years after the war ended, many continue to suffer. Whether it’s from the serious effects of Bladder Cancer or Hypothyroidism, the pain can be agonizing for these veterans and the families who love them. The American Legion believes the Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act of 2020 can help alleviate some of that suffering. We urge Congress to pass this legislation immediately.”

“There is already more than enough scientific evidence to add the four pending Agent Orange-related diseases to the VA’s list of presumptive service-connected conditions,” said Disabled American Veterans (DAV) National Commander Stephen “Butch” Whitehead. “We don’t need more studies, we need justice for veterans and their families. Since VA is not taking the appropriate action, Congress must. DAV is therefore pleased to support the Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act of 2020, and we thank Senator Tester for introducing legislation to finally correct this wrong for the hundreds of thousands of veterans who suffer from diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure without proper benefits or recognition from the VA.”