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Sen. Chuck Schumer Pushing to Expand VA Benefits to More Agent Orange-linked Diseases

Sen. Chuck Schumer has claimed “broad bipartisan support” for his plan to extend Veterans Affairs disability benefits to more Agent Orange-linked diseases. On Tuesday, July 6th, he stated that he would be including the new coverage as an amendment to the annual defense spending bill that is working its way through Congress.

“We’re here to unveil a national plan. We’re about to win this fight,” Schumer said. “The plan … will expand the list of diseases, will provide relief for tens of thousands of veterans” nationwide. 

Though fourteen illnesses related to the use of toxic herbicides in the Vietnam War are currently covered by VA benefits, four more illnesses have yet to be included. These are: hypertension, bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism symptoms. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has held that there is not substantial evidence linking these illnesses to the use of Agent Orange and that he will have to wait for the results of in-house VA studies. Wilkie’s delay has been the source of growing frustration from lawmakers and veteran’s groups for years.

Schumer’s plan would require the VA to “formally acknowledge the substantial proof linking” three of the four illnesses to Agent Orange exposure. Hypertension would be the condition excluded from the list as it was shut down by Senate Republicans. However, Republican Senate leaders have allegedly agreed to put the amendment on the floor according to Schumer and he will not stop fighting to have Hypertension included.

Much to the dismay of lawmakers and veteran’s groups, Wilkie has said that he would likely not make a decision for the four illnesses until late 2020. Thus far, Wilkie has discredited findings from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, that has linked Agent Orange exposure to all four diseases. Schumer claims that the hesitation is caused by concerns of the cost of extending these benefits to veterans, which is estimated at $15.2 billion. This legislation will attempt to circumvent any decision by Wilkie.

“Unfortunately, Penny-pinchers in the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) and even in the VA have excluded thousands and thousands of veterans from getting the benefits they need,” he said. “That’s why we are resorting to legislation.”

Wilkie’s predecessor, David Shulkin, decided to add more diseases related to Agent Orange to the list two years ago. According to documents obtained by a veteran through the Freedom of Information Act, the White House stood in his way and expressed concerns about the costs associated.

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