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WASHINGTON, D.C. – On the Senate floor today, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, led his colleagues in urging the President to take action on behalf of thousands of Vietnam veterans across the country living with chronic health conditions, by expanding the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ list of medical conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange to include Parkinsonism, Bladder Cancer, Hypertension, and Hypothyroidism. Republicans rejected Brown’s measure.
“Thousands of veterans – many of whom are aging and in urgent need of critical health care and other benefits – have waited far too long for a final decision that should have been made by the VA in 2016. I urge my colleagues to add Parkinsonism, Bladder Cancer, Hypertension and Hypothyroidism to the list of presumptive health outcomes for service-connected exposure to Agent Orange without further delay,” said Brown.
Currently, VA provides presumptions for seven of the fourteen health outcomes for which the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) has found a suggestive association between herbicide exposure and a particular medical condition. However, the four aforementioned conditions have yet to be recognized by VA, making it difficult for veterans to receive care and benefits for these illnesses. In fact, hypertension is now recognized by NAM as having sufficient association, or an even stronger link, with herbicide exposure. A presumption of exposure means that if a veteran served in a specific area during a defined time frame, VA will presume that they were exposed to certain harmful chemicals or environmental hazards.
In October, Brown joined Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.), his colleagues on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and veterans service organizations (VSOs) to condemn the Trump Administration, following released documents that revealed the White House blocked efforts by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to expand the list of presumptive health outcomes for Vietnam veterans suffering from service-connected exposure to Agent Orange.
According to internal documents obtained by a veteran through the Freedom of Information Act, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and other White House officials objected to then VA Secretary David Shulkin’s recommendation to add three health conditions — Bladder Cancer, Parkinsonism, and Hypothyroidism — to the list of conditions eligible for Agent Orange benefits in October 2017, denying approximately 83,000 veterans faster access to disability compensation and health benefits.
In a letter sent to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in September, Brown detailed the lack of movement from VA on adding health-related outcomes to the presumptive list for herbicide exposure. Brown also pushed the Department to follow through on self-imposed deadlines, as proposed in a letter sent by Secretary Wilkie at the beginning of this year. The letter was led by Sen. Jon Tester, a Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and also signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).
In June, Brown applauded news that President Trump signed legislation into law that will help Blue Water Navy veterans; however, Brown opposes the Department’s decision to stop adjudicating Blue Water Navy Veterans’ claims until January 2020. Additionally, last month, at Brown’s request the Committee held a hearing to discuss toxic and environmental exposures.