By Peter S. Gaytan
Herbicides, including the treacherous Agent Orange, were commonly used during the Vietnam War. Exposure to those chemicals has had deadly long-term effects on veterans of that conflict. Last year Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki added three ailments, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, and B-cell leukemia, to the list of diseases presumed caused by exposure to the herbicides.
There are 84,000 Vietnam veterans, afflicted with one or more of those ailments, who now draw disability compensation. There are an additional 74,000 veterans who have pending claims, based on having been in Vietnam and having one of those diseases.
Senator Tom Coburn argued on the floor of the U.S. Senate that these compensations are unfair because there is no proof that the herbicides “caused” the ailments. “We are saying that the reason they have heart disease is because at some point in time they were in Vietnam and their disease meets the law’s criteria of being “associated” with herbicide exposure.” Senator Coburn continued, “We are transferring a half million dollars to veterans under this decision by Secretary Shinseki for people who weigh 350 pounds, smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, and have hypercholesterol because they will not take their medicine.”
Senator Coburn’s proposed amendment to the Military Construction and Veteran’s Affairs Appropriations Act of 2012 would not have affected the current list of presumptive diseases. It was intended to block more conditions from being added to VA’s list of presumptive diseases and curb the limit the authority of the VA secretary to add additional presumptive diseases. The amendment was tabled, but according to his press aide, Senator Coburn has said he will continue to try and narrow the Agent Orange Act of 1991.
For more information on the Agent Orange law, go to: http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/benefits/herbicide/aono3.htm
Peter S. Gaytan is the author of For Service To Your Country – Updated Edition: The Essential Guide to Getting the Veterans’ Benefits You’ve Earned (Citadel, 2011), available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers. He has served as an advocate in securing and protecting the earned benefits of America’s veterans for more than a decade. Gaytan is the Executive Director of the American Legion, the largest veterans service organization in America.
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