For tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans entitled to long-sought benefits connected to toxic exposure, recent statements from VA Secretary Denis McDonough hold promise, but offer few specifics.
As reported by Military Times and Military.com, McDonough on Feb. 23 pledged an “urgent” review of the process that will extend benefits to tens of thousands of veterans suffering from bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism – conditions added to the list of those connected to Agent Orange exposure as part of the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). A presumptive condition means that if a claimant's exposure to Agent Orange is validated, then the disease is presumed to be service-connected.
MOAA pushed for the addition of the language to the NDAA and will continue to advocate for these veterans as the benefit takes shape. MOAA also seeks more comprehensive reform to the VA’s approach to toxic exposure – measures that will make the department more responsive not just to Vietnam veterans, but to those exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, to firefighting chemicals on military installations, and to the families and caregivers of all these individuals.
MOAA applauds McDonough’s pledge, along with statements that indicate plans to cut the implementation period for these benefits compared with earlier estimates. However, without a target date or more specifics, the long and undeserved wait for these veterans to receive benefits earned decades ago will continue.
McDonough also indicated willingness to look at adding hypertension to the list of Agent Orange presumptive conditions – a move MOAA endorsed as part of advocacy efforts connected to the other illnesses. It was part of initial legislation but was eliminated during the NDAA process, likely because of budget concerns. VA believes additional research is needed for hypertension – research that has been delayed because of COVID-19.
[RELATED AT MILITARY TIMES: Adding High Blood Pressure to List of Presumptive Agent Orange Illnesses a Key Focus for Lawmakers]
“MOAA looks forward to working with VA leadership on the issue of toxic exposure, and we’re more than pleased that it’s a priority for the secretary and his new team,” said Cory Titus, director of veteran benefits and Guard/Reserve affairs for MOAA’s Government Relations team. “Toxic exposure reform is one of our Advocacy in Action focus areas for a reason – veterans across generations are being denied the care and benefits they deserve, and structural reforms are needed to fix that.”
In the months ahead, MOAA will be seeking support from members and others in sharing our message of comprehensive toxic exposure reform. Please keep tabs on MOAA’s website, including the Advocacy News page, for updates.