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Bennet, Senate Democrats Criticize Administration for Stonewalling Veterans Suffering from Agent Orange

Washington, D.C. – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet joined U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and over 40 of their Democratic colleagues in condemning the Trump Administration for stonewalling critical benefits to veterans suffering from health conditions associated with their exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. In their letter, Bennet and the senators called on the administration to stop denying scientific evidence and end the years-long delay of adding Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, Parkinsonism, and Hypertension to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) list of service-connected presumptive conditions.   

“Your Administration’s refusal to add these conditions to the presumptive list continues to deny more than 190,000 sick and aging veterans the health care and compensation they have earned and desperately need,” wrote Bennet and the senators. “More than fifty years after their service and sacrifice, these veterans continue to suffer the detrimental effects of their exposure each day. These heroes deserve more than inaction and indecision from their own government—they deserve justice.” 

Since the Agent Orange Act of 1991, VA has established a presumption of service-connection for 14 diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) reports. However, in a recent report required by Congress in the Fiscal Year 2020 Appropriations bill, VA called into question the scientific evidence put forth by the National Academies of Medicine (NAM), noting “significant concerns and limitations” in the findings of NASEM scientists. VA also cited additional requirements in the Department’s standards for presumptive conditions, delaying the consideration of care and compensation for thousands of suffering veterans. 

The senators continued, “NAM’s reports have been the standard for scientific evidence of association for more than twenty years. But it is now clear that your Administration is intent on changing the rules at the eleventh hour and forcing veterans with Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, Parkinsonism, and Hypertension to meet a different—perhaps unattainable— standard. That is unacceptable.” 

Earlier this week, multiple Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) also weighed in, condemning the administration for continuing unnecessary and pernicious delays in justice for Vietnam veterans suffering from service-connected illnesses. 

“Mr. President, Vietnam veterans have long suffered from the ill health effects of Agent Orange exposure,” wrote the VSOs. “Thousands have died and many have been left to endure these negative health consequences from diseases that have been scientifically linked to Agent Orange. The continued delayed action by VA is causing additional suffering for Vietnam veterans and their families. We urge you to take action and to end the wait, needless suffering and disappointment for an entire generation of veterans.” 

Bennet has previously called for action to deliver Agent Orange benefits to afflicted veterans. After Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney declined to include these illnesses as presumptive conditions in November, Bennet and U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) called on the Trump Administration to stop obstructing access to health benefits and disability compensation for afflicted veterans, including Coloradans. 

In addition to Bennet and Tester, the letter was signed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), and Jack Reed (D-R.I.). 

The full text of the letter is available HERE.

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