The $8 Billion Question: Will Congress Add Additional Agent Orange Presumptives?

The $8 Billion Question: Will Congress Add Additional Agent Orange Presumptives?
A cargo plane sprays Agent Orange over a forest in North Vietnam. (Bettmann via Getty Images)

House and Senate conferees are negotiating contentious provisions in the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which should be completed just after the election. One key provision sought by MOAA – the addition of three ailments to the list of Agent Orange presumptive conditions – has received added attention because of the of the significant price tag attached.

 

The Senate version of the NDAA would raise direct spending by an additional $8 billion from 2021 to 2030, according to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate. Of that amount, $7.9 billion comes from the addition of bladder cancer, Parkinson's-like symptoms, and hypothyroidism to the list of Agent Orange presumptives. While high, the figure is $2 billion less than previous estimates.

 

MOAA does not feel this price tag should serve as a barrier to providing the earned benefits, long-delayed, to these Vietnam veterans. Their sacrifice should not be discarded as a budgetary matter, nor should financial needs in other areas be used as an excuse to continue ignoring the science behind these much-needed additions.

 

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The House’s version of the NDAA scored a insignificant budgetary impact, according to the CBO estimate.

 

The Senate showed broad bipartisan support for this initiative by passing the measure by a 94-6 vote, then following with a conferee letter signed by 46 senators.

 

Given the broad level of support in the Senate, attention turns to the House to see if representatives will agree to including this measure in the final NDAA. The related stand-alone bill introduced by Reps. Josh Harder (D-Calif.) and Pete Stauber (R-Minn.) gained nearly 40 cosponsors but was not considered by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. When Harder attempted to include a provision for the House NDAA matching what was added to the Senate version by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), his amendment did not pass the House Rules Committee.

 

One promising development: A House conference committee letter of support is being drafted and gaining significant support from representatives. The letter, when released, will send a strong message to House members on the committee of the importance of caring for 34,000 veterans ill from these Agent Orange-related diseases.

 

Veterans service organizations, including MOAA, have been urging the VA to add these presumptives for nearly a year, but the VA has delayed doing so, citing the necessity of further study. Congress is close to adding these three presumptives, but a final push from constituents is needed to ensure these ill veterans are taken care of in the NDAA. Call or write your lawmakers today.

 

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About the Author

Cory Titus
Cory Titus

Titus separated from the Army in 2017 as a captain and is MOAA's Director of Veteran Benefits and Guard/Reserve Affairs. He is currently studying social entrepreneurship at George Mason University with a focus on improving military financial education.