WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and their colleagues are urging the Administration to expand the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) list of presumptive medical conditions for veterans exposed to Agent Orange. Klobuchar is a cosponsor of a Senate resolution asking the President to expand the list of presumptive medical conditions to include hypertension, hypothyroidism, bladder cancer, and Parkinsonism, and provide more than 80,000 Vietnam-era veterans access to treatment for these conditions.
“During the Vietnam War, the U.S. sprayed 80 million liters of Agent Orange, but it took the government years to recognize its devastating health effects on our servicemembers and to begin providing the treatment they needed – we have to learn from those mistakes,” Klobuchar said. “We must work to ensure that the list of medical conditions for veterans exposed to Agent Orange is expanded. They cannot wait any longer.”
“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,” Brown said.
The resolution is also cosponsored by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Jon Tester (D-MT).
Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs (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, hypertension, hypothyroidism, bladder cancer, and parkinsonism have yet to be recognized by the VA, making it difficult for veterans to receive care and benefits for these illnesses. In fact, hypertension is now recognized by the National Association of Manufacturers (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, the VA will presume that they were exposed to certain harmful chemicals or environmental hazards.
According to internal documents obtained by a veteran through the Freedom of Information Act, acting White House Chief of Staff 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.
Since coming to the Senate, Klobuchar has worked to ensure that veterans and servicemembers who have defended our freedom and security have the resources they need and deserve.
In May, Klobuchar and Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced legislation to ensure that servicemembers and veterans exposed to Occupational Environmental Health (OEH) hazards in the line of duty get the necessary medical care and benefits they need. The bipartisan Occupational and Environmental Transparency Health (OATH) Act would require the Department of Defense to track active duty military personnel and veterans’ exposed to harmful chemicals in a system.
In May, Klobuchar-backed legislation to prevent changes in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act from unduly harming Gold Star military families passed the Senate. The Gold Star Family Tax Relief Act will correct a mistake in President Donald Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and eliminate the unfair tax hike on survivors benefits for Gold Star military families.
In 2018, provisions based on Klobuchar and Senator Thom Tillis’ (R-NC) Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act were signed into law as part of the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act. The bipartisan legislation created a Center of Excellence in the VA focused on researching the health effects associated with burn pits and treating veterans who become sick after exposure. In March, they reintroduced the Newborn Care Improvement Act, bipartisan legislation that would double the number of days veterans receive care for their newborns from 7 to 14. Klobuchar also worked to pass the landmark Post-9/11 GI Bill, which provided enhanced tuition and housing benefits to service members seeking to continue their education and smoothly transition into the civilian workforce. She also supported the pivotal Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, which not only improved support and training for family caregivers – who often carry the largest burden of nursing our wounded warriors back to health – but also strengthened health programs for women and rural veterans.