Following months of tireless advocacy for Vietnam War veterans in Upstate New York, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced the Senate’s Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes his provision to add bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism to the list of diseases associated with exposure to the "Agent Orange" herbicide vets came into contact with during their Vietnam War service.
Schumer explained that the addition is significant because unless their diagnosed disease is associated with exposure to Agent Orange, Vietnam veterans are unable to access the healthcare and benefits they rightfully deserve.
The amendment passed in the Senate 96-4 yesterday, and the final NDAA, which is expected to be put to a final vote in the Senate in coming days, will expand healthcare access for Vietnam veterans in Upstate New York and across the country.
“After years and years of suffering and fighting, I proudly stood shoulder to shoulder with our Vietnam vets who were exposed to Agent Orange to get Congress to finally take a major step forward so they get access to the medical care they need. It’s taken far too long, and we still need to this change signed into law. But veterans across the country are celebrating today as a victory, and we will work together to get this across the finish line in the very near future,” Senator Schumer said.
Earlier this month, Schumer was in Long Island to unveil his plan to add an expansion of the illnesses associated with exposure to Agent Orange to the NDAA. The senator has previously visited Rochester, Albany, Utica, Dunkirk, Wallkill and Ithaca to meet with Vietnam vets and advocate for an expansion of the associated illnesses list.
Schumer said that the nation’s Vietnam veterans – more than 240,000 of whom are in New York – who were exposed to Agent Orange, have been calling on the feds to expand the list of diseases associated with the herbicide exposure.
“I am proud I helped our Vietnam vets cut through bureaucratic red-tape and halted the feds’ foot-dragging to push the Senate into action." Schumer said. "With only the final vote to pass the final NDAA remaining, New York’s Vietnam vets are closer than ever to getting the medical access they deserve.”
The senator added, “We’re going to keep fighting until the NDAA is passed and any Vietnam vet can get care for their bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, or Parkinsonism. We’re going to keep fighting to deliver a huge relief locally and across the country to so many families. We must deliver for the Vietnam vets that fought for us.”
He emphasized the importance of adding these illnesses to the list associated with Agent Orange exposure, and reiterated just how long this fight has been waged. Last year, the Senator secured a provision in the budget deal requiring OMB and the VA to issue a detailed report to Congress on the delay in adding these conditions to the presumptive conditions list, BUT the report was woefully insufficient.
Schumer said those agencies failed to properly explain why they were denying veterans. In addition to the failure to include bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism on the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list, the VA has never acted on a 2018 National Academies report that found sufficient evidence of association between exposure to herbicides and hypertension.
Schumer also 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 between1962-1975 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 has been scientific evidence linking Parkinsonism, bladder cancer and hypothyroidism to Agent Orange exposure, they are not currently on the VA’s list of recognized presumptive conditions.
Schumer said if an Agent-Orange-related condition isn’t specifically listed on the presumptive conditions list then the VA forces the suffering veterans and their families to argue their claim in a lengthy, bureaucratic appeals process that can last years and often end in a denial. In many cases the veteran will die before the process is even concluded.
Veterans shouldn’t have to wage their own war to gather the scientific facts and medical opinions about hypothyroidism in order to receive the care and benefits needed to treat the illnesses they contracted because they served our nation, Schumer said, adding that it is absolutely crucial that the roughly 240,000 Vietnam-era veterans in New York State receive the healthcare benefits they need and deserve, and final passage of his amendment in the NDAA will allow that to happen.