WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), along with 41 Senate Democrats, have sent a letter to President Donald J. Trump condemning the Administration for stonewalling critical benefits to Vietnam veterans suffering from health conditions associated with their exposure to Agent Orange. In the letter, Senators Udall and Heinrich specifically called on the Administration to stop denying scientific evidence, and end the years-long delay of adding Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, Parkinsonism, and Hypertension to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) list of service-connected presumptive conditions.
“Your Administration’s refusal to add these conditions to the presumptive list continues to deny more than 190,000 sick and aging veterans the health care and compensation they have earned and desperately need,” wrote the Senators. “More than fifty years after their service and sacrifice, these veterans continue to suffer the detrimental effects of their exposure each day. These heroes deserve more than inaction and indecision from their own government— they deserve justice.”
Since the Agent Orange Act of 1991, VA has established a presumption of service-connection for 14 diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAESM) reports. However, in a recent report required by Congress in the Fiscal Year 2020 Appropriations bill, VA called into question the scientific evidence put forth by the National Academies of Medicine (NAM), noting “significant concerns and limitations” in the findings of NAESM scientists. VA also cited additional requirements in the Department’s standards for presumptive conditions, delaying the consideration of care and compensation for thousands of suffering veterans.
The Senators continued, “NAM’s reports have been the standard for scientific evidence of association for more than twenty years. But it is now clear that your Administration is intent on changing the rules at the eleventh hour and forcing veterans with Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, Parkinsonism, and Hypertension to meet a different—perhaps unattainable— standard. That is unacceptable.”
Earlier this week, multiple Veterans Service Organizations additionally weighed in on the issue, condemning the Administration for continuing unnecessary and pernicious delays in justice for Vietnam veterans suffering from service-connected illnesses.
“Mr. President, Vietnam veterans have long suffered from the ill health effects of Agent Orange exposure,” wrote the VSOs. “Thousands have died and many have been left to endure these negative health consequences from diseases that have been scientifically linked to Agent Orange. The continued delayed action by VA is causing additional suffering for Vietnam veterans and their families. We urge you to take action and to end the wait, needless suffering and disappointment for an entire generation of veterans.”
Thousands of veterans like Dan Miles, a 74-year-old Vietnam veteran from Butte, Montana, continue to live with the effects of his exposure to Agent Orange. Decades after his service, Dan was diagnosed with Bladder Cancer and Hypertension, health conditions not currently recognized as service-connected illnesses by VA.
“It’s ironic that this Administration continues to call for more scientific evidence, when they repeatedly turn a blind eye to science at every corner,” said Dan Miles, who served as a medic in Vietnam. “It’s clear to all of us who put boots on the ground in Vietnam, that Agent Orange was used to level the airfields next to where we ate, breathed, and slept. Since then, I’ve had five cancerous tumors removed from my bladder. It’s time for the Administration to stop ignoring the evidence presented by scientists, and step up to the plate for veterans.”
The letter, led by U.S. Senator John Tester (D-Mont.) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), was also signed by U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tina Smith (D-Minn), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), and Jack Reed (D-R.I.).
Read the full letter HERE.