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Department of Veterans Affairs Delay Decision to Include Four New Agent Orange-Related Conditions

Monday, February 10, 2020

The VA has disputed a scientific panel’s finding that illustrated significant evidence linking the development of bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, Parkinson’s-like tremors, and hypertension to Agent Orange. The report came from several National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM). The decision to dispute the findings in anticipation of further results from the VA’s own studies, is delaying what could be a $15.2 billion decision.

Robert Wilkie, VA Secretary, said that VA experts “noted significant concerns and limitations” and did not identify any “definitive causal links” between Agent Orange and the diseases. Wilkie further pointed out that two of the conditions, bladder cancer and hypertension, have other risk factors like age, diet, and tobacco use.

Wilkie also stated that the NASEM relied heavily on studies of Army Chemical Corps “with known high occupational exposure” that don’t fully capture the experience of the U.S. troops in Vietnam as a whole.

This postponement in the decision by the VA has lengthened an already three-year delay. Former VA secretary, Dr. David Shulkin, publicly announced in 2017 that he had decided the inclusion of three of the conditions in questions, but the outcome was never released. Now, the VA’s report states that “the soonest the secretary would be able to consider adding any new presumptive conditions is in late 2020.”

The weight of this decision significantly impacts those with the conditions that were exposed to Agent Orange. According to the report, 190,000 veterans would be eligible for disability compensation in the first year if all four conditions were approved and added to the list. The VA’s estimates that this number would rise to 2.1 million after five years.

Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader, commented that “The report offers no explanation as to why the White House, Mick Mulvaney, and OMB continue to block these benefits and gives no plan to get veterans the coverage they need.” He went on to criticize the Trump Administration for leaving suffering veterans behind.

California Democrat Josh Harder also commented, stating that “this confirms our suspicion that the VA is continuing to drag their feet while tens of thousands of veterans are left to suffer with these diseases without the benefits they’re owed.”

As the VA awaits its own scientific findings regarding the link between these conditions and Agent Orange, thousands of veterans are left in a place of uncertainty.

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