The VA Proposed Adding 4 Health Conditions To Agent Orange “Presumptive Conditions” Exposure Health Care Benefits List, But Administration Has Refused To Add Conditions & Blocked Vietnam-Era Vets From Getting The VA Coverage & Compensation They Deserve
Standing at the Veterans Outreach Center, flanked by Rochester Vietnam War veterans suffering from Agent Orange-linked conditions including bladder cancer and hypothyroidism and not receiving the care and compensation they deserve, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today called on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to finally prioritize the health and well-being of Upstate New York veterans and finally end the years-long delay of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) effort to add additional diseases to the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list.
A 2016 National Academies report found suggestive evidence that bladder cancer and hypothyroidism were associated with veterans’ service, as well as clarified that veterans with “Parkinson-like symptoms” (Parkinsonism) should be considered eligible under the presumption that Parkinson’s disease and the veterans’ service are connected.
Following this report, former VA Secretary David Shulkin announced that he would add these conditions to the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list in the near future—which would allow Vietnam War-era veterans stricken by these illnesses to receive additional health care benefits, disability compensation, and care benefits to surviving spouses and dependent children and parents—but that announcement never came after OMB blocked the move.
In addition to the failure to include bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism on the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list, the VA has also yet to act on a 2018 National Academies report that found sufficient evidence of an association between exposure to herbicides and hypertension.
Even though Schumer secured a provision in the recently-passed budget deal requiring the VA to issue a report to Congress in consultation with OMB on the delay in adding these conditions to the presumptive conditions list, he said this is not nearly enough and urged the agencies to take the necessary steps to ensure that the over 240,000 New York veterans, who risked their lives to defend their country, receive the health care and benefits they need and deserve.
Just last week, Schumer called recently-confirmed OIRA Administrator Paul Ray directly and implored him, as the chief overlooking all federal government regulations, to immediately prioritize our veterans’ healthcare, take a personal interest in expanding their health benefits and add these conditions to the Agent Orange Presumptive Conditions List.
“It’s unfathomable that the administration is refusing to do right by our nation’s veterans, including the more than 240,000 New York veterans that bravely served during the Vietnam era, and has unilaterally blocked the VA from expanding healthcare benefits to those exposed to Agent Orange,” said Senator Schumer.
“After years and years of kicking the can down the road, it is high time for the federal government to accept the substantial proof linking bladder cancer, hypertension, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism to Agent Orange exposure, and add these conditions to the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list,” he explains.
It is absolutely incumbent on the administration to do everything within its power to clear a path for the VA, add these conditions to the list of Agent Orange illnesses, and finally allow veterans who are currently suffering access to the healthcare and benefits they rightly deserve; it’s not just the right thing to do, but it’s the very least we owe the brave New Yorkers who served and defended our country,” Schumer adds.
In March of last year, Dr. Richard Stone, the Executive in Charge of the Veterans Health Administration, testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that the recommended new presumptive conditions would be added within 90 days, which also never happened.
Furthermore, this past October, email communications between the VA and the White House revealed that the delays were at the behest of the OMB Director Mick Mulvaney and White House advisors, who were reportedly concerned about the potential cost of adding diseases to the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list. Emails explaining the decision to hold off on adding the conditions to the presumptive conditions list can be found here.
Schumer explained that per the Agent Orange Act of 1991, the VA automatically accepts that if a Vietnam Veteran physically served in Vietnam between January 1962 and May 1975, it is probable that the veteran was exposed to an herbicide agent like Agent Orange.
Furthermore, the Act established a list of “presumed” diseases that the VA stipulates are caused by Agent Orange exposure. Therefore, if a veteran served in Vietnam at any time between 1962-1975 and is diagnosed with one or more of the diseases VA recognizes as service connected, the VA will compensate the veteran and his or her family.
However, even though there is scientific evidence linking Parkinsonism, bladder cancer, hypertension and hypothyroidism to Agent Orange exposure, they are not currently on the VA’s list of recognized conditions.
In pushing for these conditions to be added to the VA’s list for benefits, Schumer pointed to the story of Dick Gabriel during a speech on the Senate floor, a Vietnam War veteran who was diagnosed with leukemia, possibly due to his exposure to Agent Orange. Schumer argued there could be thousands of other New York veterans like Gabriel suffering from devastating medical conditions because of their exposure to the herbicide, and said that each and every one of them deserves access to high-quality health care and medical benefits.
Schumer was joined by two impacted veterans: Jim Meyers, a Vietnam veteran who was diagnosed with bladder cancer, and Manny Silva, a Vietnam veteran with hypothyroidism. Jim was diagnosed with bladder cancer but the VA has not recognized it as service-connected, meaning not only is he not receiving any compensation to help in his care, but if he were tragically to succumb to it, his dependents wouldn’t receive any compensation, or be eligible for a survivor pension.
Similarly, Manny Silva has been living with hypothyroidism and filing claims and appeals with the VA for months now, in an effort to get approval to have his diagnosis connected to his service. If an Agent Orange-related condition isn’t specifically included listed on the presumptive conditions list, which in Manny’s case, it is not, then the VA forces the suffering veterans and their families to argue their claim in a lengthy, bureaucratic appeals process that can last years and often end in a denial. In many cases the veteran will die before the process is even concluded.
Schumer said veterans like Manny Silva shouldn’t have to wage their own war to gather the scientific facts and medical opinions about hypothyroidism in order to receive the care and benefits needed to treat the illnesses they contracted because they served our nation. Schumer said that is absolutely crucial that the roughly 240,000 Vietnam-era veterans in New York State receive the healthcare benefits they need and deserve.
Schumer was joined for the announcement in Rochester by Jim Meyers, a Vietnam veteran who was diagnosed with bladder cancer, Manny Silva, a Vietnam veteran with hypothyroidism, Jerry McDermott, a Vietnam veteran and a Director of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) Chapter 20, Valentino Gatto, President of VVA Chapter 20, Bill Auble, a Director and Legislative Chair of VVA Chapter 20, Shannon Sander, Commander of Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Monroe County Powers Chapter 15, George Sander, Treasurer & Adjutant, DAV Chapter 15, Adam Bello, Monroe County Executive, Nick Stefanovic, Monroe County Veteran Service Agency Director and Laura Stradley, CEO of Veterans Outreach Center.
A rough breakdown of New York State Vietnam War-era veterans by region can be found below.
- In the Capital Region, there are more than 25,000 veterans.
- In Central New York, there are more than 16,000 veterans.
- In Western New York, there are more than 32,000 veterans.
- In the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region, there are more than 18,000 veterans.
- In the Southern Tier, there are more than 18,800 veterans.
- In the Hudson Valley, there are more than 26,000 veterans.
- In the North Country, there are more than 6,600 veterans.
- In Long Island and New York City, there are more than 83,000 veterans.