The Department of Veterans Affairs has proposed an amendment to the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act that would add three diseases to the list of illnesses presumed to be linked to Agent Orange. If approved, the measure would provide health care and disabilities to roughly an additional 22,000 affected veterans.
What diseases are on the Agent Orange benefit expansion list?
Democratic Congressmen have proposed amendments in both the House and Senate would add the following three conditions to the list of illnesses associated with Agent Orange:
- Bladder cancer
These illnesses would be added to the current 14 conditions already related to herbicide exposure during the Vietnam War.
Adding the conditions to the list isn’t anything new. Since 2016, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has said the diseases are associated with exposure to defoliants used in the Vietnam War.
Three-year delay in adding the conditions
According to reports, Vietnam Veterans have been waiting for decades for these diseases to be listed as apart of the benefits. The decision to add bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and parkinsonism have been delayed since 2017. At the time, VA Secretary David Shulking expressed support for including them, but never formally announced his decision.
Internal documents reveal that Shulkin was on the verge of including the condition when White House officials objected, citing what they called “limited scientific evidence” and cost.
What is not being added to the Agent Orange disease list?
Many critics note that hypertension is missing list from the proposed conditions that the VA would cover as a result of Agent Orange. The Academies linked hypertension to Agent Orange in 2018.
In February, Rep. Mark Takano, D-California, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee penned a letter to President Donald Trump in hopes that the president would take corrective action and add all four diseases to the list.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is common among the elderly. If included to the list of conditions the VA covers, it could add more than 2 million veterans to the VA disability rolls in the next 10 years. It is estimated that including hypertension would cost the VA approximately $11.2 billion to $15.2 billion over the next 10 years if added to the list illnesses caused by Agent Orange.
While hypertension did not make the list of proposals, a coalition of Veterans and Military organizations have pledged to continue working on getting it adopted as a presumptive disease link.
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