On Monday, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to finally prioritize the health and well-being of Upstate New York veterans and finally end the years-long delay of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) effort to add additional diseases to the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list.
In Western New York, there are approximately more than 32,000 Vietnam-era veterans. Statewide, there are more than 240,000 of them.
A 2016 National Academies report found suggestive evidence that bladder cancer and hypothyroidism were associated with veterans’ service, as well as clarified that veterans with “Parkinson-like symptoms” (Parkinsonism) should be considered eligible under the presumption that Parkinson's disease and the veterans' service are connected.
Following this report, former VA Secretary David Shulkin announced that he would add these conditions to the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list in the near future, which would allow Vietnam War-era veterans stricken by these illnesses to receive additional health care benefits, disability compensation, and care benefits to surviving spouses and dependent children and parents.
But that announcement never came after OMB blocked the move.
In addition to the failure to include bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism on the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list, the VA has also yet to act on a 2018 National Academies report that found sufficient evidence of association between exposure to herbicides and hypertension.
Even though Schumer secured a provision in the recently passed budget deal requiring the VA to issue a report to Congress in consultation with OMB on the delay in adding these conditions to the presumptive conditions list, he said this is not nearly enough. He urged the agencies to take the necessary steps to ensure that the over 240,000 New York veterans, who risked their lives to defend their country, receive the health care and benefits they need and deserve.
Just last week, Schumer called recently confirmed OIRA Administrator Paul Ray directly and implored him, as the chief overlooking all federal government regulations, to immediately prioritize our veterans’ healthcare, take a personal interest in expanding their health benefits and add these conditions to the Agent Orange Presumptive Conditions List.
“It’s unfathomable that the administration is refusing to do right by our nation’s veterans, including the more than 240,000 New York veterans that bravely served during the Vietnam era, and has unilaterally blocked the VA from expanding healthcare benefits to those exposed to Agent Orange,” Senator Schumer said.
The Right Thing to Do
“After years and years of kicking the can down the road, it is high time for the federal government to accept the substantial proof linking bladder cancer, hypertension, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism to Agent Orange exposure, and add these conditions to the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list.
"It is absolutely incumbent on the administration to do everything within its power to clear a path for the VA, add these conditions to the list of Agent Orange illnesses, and finally allow veterans who are currently suffering access to the healthcare and benefits they rightly deserve; it’s not just the right thing to do, but it’s the very least we owe the brave New Yorkers who served and defended our country.”
In March of last year, Dr. Richard Stone, the executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that the recommended new presumptive conditions would be added within 90 days, which also never happened.
Furthermore, this past October, email communications between the VA and the White House revealed that the delays were at the behest of the OMB Director Mick Mulvaney and White House advisors, who were reportedly concerned about the potential cost of adding diseases to the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list.
Emails explaining the decision to hold off on adding the conditions to the presumptive conditions list can be found here.
Exposure to Herbicide 'Agent Orange' Inflicts 'Presumed Diseases'
Schumer explained that per the Agent Orange Act of 1991, the VA automatically accepts that if a Vietnam Veteran physically served in Vietnam between January 1962 and May 1975, it is probable that the veteran was exposed to an herbicide agent like Agent Orange.
Furthermore, the Act established a list of “presumed” diseases that the VA stipulates are caused by Agent Orange exposure. Therefore, if a veteran served in Vietnam at any time between 1962-1975 and is diagnosed with one or more of the diseases VA recognizes as service connected, the VA will compensate the veteran and his or her family.
However, even though there is scientific evidence linking Parkinsonism, bladder cancer, hypertension and hypothyroidism to Agent Orange exposure, they are not currently on the VA’s list of recognized conditions.
Schumer said that is absolutely crucial that the roughly 240,000 Vietnam-era veterans in New York State receive the healthcare benefits they need and deserve.
“Adding these diseases to the Agent Orange Presumption List would only benefit the brave service members who were exposed to this chemical during the Vietnam War and are suffering from its harmful effects,” Veterans Outreach Center Executive Director and Army veteran Laura Stradley said. “Veterans Outreach Center stands with our veterans, and we support the laws that allow our brothers and sisters to access much-needed healthcare, services and support.”