11.08.19

Peters Urges Trump Administration to Lift Benefits Freeze for Vietnam Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) is pressing the Trump Administration to reverse their decision to delay and deny healthcare and benefits for veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. In a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie and Office of Budget and Management Director (OMB) Mick Mulvaney, Peters stressed that a new law passed by Congress and a federal court decision granted VA authority to provide benefits for additional Vietnam veterans. He also mentioned a Freedom of Information Act request that found OMB blocked the VA from adding more diseases connected to Agent Orange exposure, such as hypothyroidism, bladder cancer, hypertension, and Parkinsonism, to the list of presumptive illnesses eligible for coverage. The Administration’s stalling impacts more than 80,000 Vietnam veterans who are suffering from these health conditions.

“I am writing to express concern with the Trump Administration’s apparent refusal to take appropriate measures to immediately support veterans who are suffering from illnesses associated with Agent Orange exposure,” wrote Peters, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “...Your inaction places you squarely between tens of thousands of veterans and life-saving treatment and benefits...Stonewalling veterans like this is completely unfair. Vietnam veterans are aging...This matter demands urgency.”

In the letter, Peters also demanded that the White House either add the previously listed conditions to the VA’s list of Agent Orange presumptive diseases or provide an explanation for why the Administration is declining to provide veterans suffering from these afflictions their earned benefits, despite scientific evidence suggesting they should.

Peters has led numerous efforts in Congress to support Michigan’s servicemembers and veterans. Peters supported the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, bipartisan legislation that President Trump signed into law this summer, which allows VA to offer benefits to veterans who served off the coast of Vietnam and were exposed to Agent Orange.  That followed a January federal court decision that ruled VA cannot deny disability benefits to Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans. Despite that ruling and the legislation signed into law, VA is still not processing these veterans’ claims. 

Earlier this year, Peters authored a bipartisan bill to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) caregiver program by providing caregivers and veterans more opportunities to appeal any downgrade or termination of benefits and ensure all caregivers are recognized as part of the clinical team attending to veterans. Peters also helped introduce bipartisan legislation this past January to require servicemembers to be assessed for exposure to open toxic burn pits as part of their routine health exams.

Text of the letter is copied below and available here:

November 8, 2019

Dear Director Mulvaney and Secretary Wilkie,

I am writing to express concern with the Trump Administration’s apparent refusal to take appropriate measures to immediately support veterans who are suffering from illnesses associated with Agent Orange exposure. Despite having the authority to act, the Administration has demonstrated a pattern of delay and evasiveness while these veterans wait for help. Your inaction places you squarely between tens of thousands of veterans and life-saving treatment and benefits.   

Veterans should not have to file lawsuits or Freedom of Information Act requests to find out if the Administration is going to provide this support. Yet that is how we learned the Office of Management and Budget claims it “lacks confidence” in scientific evidence that links Agent Orange exposure to hypothyroidism, bladder cancer, hypertension, and Parkinsonism. If you have information that would counter the National Academies of Medicines’ findings on the correlation between Agent Orange and these conditions, I request that you provide it to me immediately. If such information does not exist, I request that the Administration either immediately add these conditions to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) list of Agent Orange presumptive diseases or provide my office with an explanation regarding why the Administration is declining to provide this relief to veterans.

Of equal concern, the Administration appears to be unnecessarily delaying benefits to veterans who have already been determined eligible for assistance. The President signed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act into law on June 25, 2019. The new law allows VA to offer benefits to veterans who served off the coast of Vietnam and were exposed to Agent Orange. This followed a January 29, 2019 federal court decision that ruled VA cannot deny disability benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans. Despite authorization from Congress and the courts, VA is not processing Blue Water Navy veteran claims. After decades of waiting for help, VA has needlessly told veterans to wait longer.

Stonewalling veterans like this is completely unfair. Vietnam veterans are aging. Those who pass away waiting will not be able to provide their spouses with survivors’ benefits. This matter demands urgency. I look forward to your immediate response. 

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