Harder Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Force VA to Provide Benefits for Vietnam Vets Exposed to Agent Orange
After the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) signaled that it would not cover several diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange for at least a year -- if at all, Representatives Josh Harder (CA-10) and Pete Stauber (MN-08) introduced the Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act, which would require the VA to cover the conditions. Currently, Vietnam Veterans with specific health care problems developed as the result of exposure to Agent Orange during their service get "presumptive" access to benefits at the VA. However, some health problems, which have been linked to Agent Orange exposure are not covered. The VA's decision to ignore the results of real scientific evidence and wait on the outcome of other studies means dragging out care for over 83,000 Vietnam Veterans struggling with bladder cancer, Parkinsonism, hypertension, or hypothyroidism who must struggle without the benefits they deserve for at least a year.
"These guys have waited for over 40 years for the benefits they earned and should have been getting decades ago," said Rep. Harder. "No more studies. No more excuses. Everyone seems to think this is the right thing to do except for some Washington bureaucrats -- it's time to stop playing games and give our vets the benefits they earned."
"When our servicemembers join the armed forces, they make the ultimate sacrifice -- they put their lives on the line for the security of our nation and the safety of our families. It is only fair that we care for these servicemembers when they return home," said Rep. Pete Stauber (MN-08). "Vietnam veterans have long been suffering from health problems as a result of Agent Orange exposure. That is why Congressman Harder and I introduced the Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act, which adds Parkinsonism, bladder cancer, hypertension, and hypothyroidism to the list of presumptive diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure, so that our veterans can access the healthcare and disability benefits they rightfully deserve. I'm proud to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on this important issue."
"It has been over three years since the National Academies reported their findings in 2016 and VA has taken no action. Veterans with terminal illnesses such as bladder cancer cannot continue to wait on VA's needless delays, as they need access to VA health care and benefits now," said Joy J. Ilem, National Legislative Director, Disabled American Veterans (DAV). "On behalf of DAV and our over one million members, all of whom were injured or made ill during wartime service, I write to offer our support for Representative Harder's legislation that would include additional presumptive diseases for Agent Orange exposure."
The Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act would simply add the four conditions to the presumptive list to ensure qualifying veterans get automatic access to benefits. The bill has been endorsed by Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the Paralyzed Veterans of America, and the Fleet Reserve Association.
Although the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) has found a link between these four conditions and exposure to Agent Orange, the VA has claimed there is not sufficient scientific evidence to justify adding the conditions to the list. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie recently told Senators the decision on whether to add the conditions wouldn't come until at least "late 2020." However, last year, the VA told Congress a decision would be made by July 2019
Former VA Secretary David Shulkin attempted to add these four conditions to the presumptive list in 2019, but records obtained by Military Times and Freedom of Information requests indicate that Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney intervened to prevent the addition of these conditions over cost concerns.
Representative Harder previously introduced a House Resolution alongside Senator Sherrod Brown to encourage the president to add the conditions to the presumptive list. In addition to introducing the bill and resolution, Rep. Harder, along with House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano (CA-41) wrote a letter directly to Mick Mulvaney demanding that he stop his campaign to prevent these veterans from obtaining health care coverage for their conditions.
In June, President Trump signed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act into law, legislation Rep. Harder cosponsored and voted to pass through the House of Representatives. The new law will guarantee that Navy Veterans get the same access to coverage for Agent Orange-related health conditions as their counterparts who served on land. Following the law's passage, Rep. Harder held a workshop to help dozens of area veterans apply for their new health care benefits.