November 11, 2020
From Senator Gillibrand:
On Veterans Day, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged House and Senate Armed Services Committee leadership to include expanded health care and benefits for veterans suffering from Agent Orange-linked illnesses in the final Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). With the NDAA headed for consideration by the Senate and House in coming weeks, Gillibrand is pushing committee leadership to maintain the bipartisan amendment — which passed the Senate 94-6 — to establish a presumption of service-connection for Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism for veterans exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam.
“More than thirty thousand service members are suffering from conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure, yet the VA continues to deny care by placing the burden of proof on veterans,” said Senator Gillibrand. “No veteran should have to fight the VA for care that is linked to their service while they are fighting for their life. That’s why I introduced legislation to guarantee care and benefits for those exposed to burn pits and that is why I will continue fighting with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for those exposed to Agent Orange. It’s time for Congress to pass this important provision and ensure veterans can access the medical care they need.”
“Justice is long overdue for our aging veterans currently dying from conditions resulting from their exposure to Agent Orange chemicals in Vietnam,” said Senator Jon Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Congress must acknowledge the overwhelming scientific evidence put forth by veterans, scientists and medical experts, and end the wait for more than 34,000 frustrated veterans living with and dying from these debilitating health conditions. Inclusion of my amendment in the Senate’s must-pass annual defense bill will send a clear message that we’re living up to the promises made to those who served by ensuring they get the care and benefits they’ve earned.”
New York State is home to more than 240,000 Vietnam-era veterans. Thousands of these veterans have been diagnosed with Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism. While the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) has established a link between these conditions and exposure to Agent Orange, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has denied veterans desperately needed care and benefits for these conditions. Instead, veterans who become ill from Agent Orange-related conditions that aren’t specifically listed on the presumptive conditions list are forced to prove their claim in a lengthy, bureaucratic appeals process that can last years. Often claims are denied and some veterans die before the process is even concluded.
Diseases resulting from exposure to toxic chemicals and other toxins are a deadly cost of war. However, the VA has a history of denying many veteran’s access to benefits with the excuse that there isn’t enough science to prove their ailments are service-connected. Earlier this year, Senator Gillibrand, alongside Congressman Raul Ruiz, introduced the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act of 2020 to remove the “burden of proof” from the veteran to provide enough evidence to establish a direct service connection between their health condition and exposure. The legislation would streamline the process for obtaining VA benefits for burn pit and other toxic exposures so that veterans can easily access the health care they need.