VA urged to expand list


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has joined his colleagues in urging the Department of Veterans Affairs to take action on behalf of thousands of veterans across the country living with chronic health conditions, by expanding the Department’s list of medical conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange. In a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, 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).

“Mr. Secretary, 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,” wrote the Senators. “We therefore urge you to add Parkinsonism, Bladder Cancer, Hypertension and Hyperthyroidism to the list of presumptive health outcomes for service-connected exposure to Agent Orange without further delay.”

Currently, VA provides presumptions for seven of the 12 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 above-named conditions have yet to be recognized by VA. In fact, hypertension is now recognized by NAM as having positive 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.

The senators also called into question the department’s delay in adding Parkinsonism to the list of conditions: “It seems arbitrary to make a distinction between Parkinson’s and Parkinsonism as both severely affect the health and quality of life for veterans… We owe it to our veterans to lift the burden of proving their symptoms are the nexus for service-connected herbicide exposure.”

Brown led efforts to ensure veterans who served in Vietnam’s territorial waters and were exposed to toxic Agent Orange chemicals, receive the benefits they’ve earned. In June, he applauded news that President Trump signed legislation into law that will help Blue Water Navy veterans, after he introduced the Senate companion legislation. Brown also pressed Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Robert Wilkie in March on securing benefits for Blue Water Navy Veterans and other key issues impacting Ohio veterans during a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing.