Warner calls on Trump administration to reverse decision blocking Agent Orange benefits
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) took to the Senate floor this week to draw attention to the plight of Vietnam-era veterans struggling to get benefits for illnesses related to toxic herbicide Agent Orange.
In his speech, Warner called on the Trump administration to reverse its decision to block an expansion of approved Agent Orange–related conditions that automatically qualify a veteran for benefits.
According to documents obtained by the Military Times, in early 2018 White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney blocked a request by then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin to add three medical conditions (bladder cancer, Parkinson’s-like symptoms and hypothyroidism) to the list of approved Agent Orange–related conditions.
The documents reveal that an estimated 83,000 veterans would have been made eligible for coverage if the decision had gone through.
“There is more than enough evidence to expand the list of Agent Orange–related conditions. We should be thanking these veterans for their service, not nickel and diming them,” Sen. Warner said. “I urge my colleagues to listen to the veterans in their states. And I urge the White House to let the V-A provide these veterans with the benefits they’ve earned.”
In his remarks, Warner also shared the stories of two Hampton Roads veterans, William Badgett and Sam Harvey, and one Richmond-area veteran, Dorman Watts of North Chesterfield. In recent months, Sen. Warner’s office has helped these veterans with their Department of Veterans Affairs claims related to Agent Orange.
“My office hears regularly from veterans facing health problems like prostate cancer… like Parkinson’s… and other conditions that have been linked to Agent Orange. Time and again we hear how the V-A tries to deny benefits on the basis of a technicality,” Sen. Warner said. “Mr. President, this is just not right. Unfortunately, this administration is far from the first to ignore the evidence about Agent Orange in order to save a few bucks.”
From 1962 to 1975, the U.S. military sprayed over 20 million gallons of Agent Orange across Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. This toxic chemical had devastating health effects on millions of American service members in Southeast Asia, as well as to the civilians who were exposed. In 1991, Congress passed a law requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide presumptive coverage to all Vietnam veterans with illnesses that the Institute of Medicine has directly linked to Agent Orange exposure, including those who were stationed on ships off the Vietnamese coast, also known as Blue Water Navy veterans.
In June, the President signed into law the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, a Warner-sponsored bill that ended the exclusion of these “Blue Water” veterans. This bipartisan legislation clarified the existing law so that Blue Water Navy veterans will be granted V-A coverage equitable to those who are already covered.
Congress is poised to vote on appropriations legislation this week that will provide $153.6 million to fund the V-A’s implementation of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act.