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Wolfsteller: The VA secretary is plain wrong about Agent Orange illnesses

Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation
By Jeremy Wolfsteller

After years of research and reports released to VA from the National Academics of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, or NASEM on Agent Orange-linked diseases, the VA secretary denies adding three conditions noting significant concerns and limitations with their findings.

Secretary Robert Wilkie’s indecisiveness to add bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinson’s-like symptoms to the list of Agent Orange-related illnesses has led to further delays in veterans receiving health care and disability payments.

The cost to add these three conditions could be between $11.2 billion and $15.2 billion, which I believe is why the secretary decided to administer an internal study of these conditions to determine if they can find correlation between these conditions and Agent Orange.

Jeremy Wolfsteller

In my opinion, it has been just another delay in taking care of those who have borne the battle.

Well, secretary, your time is up; our Vietnam veterans are done waiting 50 years to be taken care of.

On July 22, 2020, the Senate advanced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would force the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand benefits for more Agent Orange-linked diseases, bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinson’s-like symptoms.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, proposed the amendment to the annual defense spending bill, and on Wednesday it received more than the 60 votes needed to make it into the massive must-pass omnibus annual bill that sets the budget, and some policy, for the Defense Department.

Since the bill is all but guaranteed to pass, it’s prime real estate for major military and veterans’ legislation, including on toxic exposure.

“Justice is long overdue for the veterans currently suffering and dying. This administration has refused to expand the list of presumptive conditions. They do not seem to think exposure to these toxic chemicals in Vietnam is a cost of war. Let me tell you — they’re wrong, and it is,” Tester said on the Senate floor before the vote.

The Senate voted 94-6, with six Republicans voting against it — Mike Braun of Indiana, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rick Scott of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas.

Once these conditions are added to the Agent Orange presumptive illness list, VA will first have to add it to the CFR and provide a public comment period. Hopefully, we can expect these conditions to go into effect sometime around the first of the year but only time will tell.

Another question is, will veterans who filled for these illnesses that have been previously denied be entitled to retro pay?

Jeremy Wolfsteller is the Department of Minnesota service officer. His email is jwolfsteller@mnlegion.org.

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