Tens of thousands of veterans ill and dying from Agent Orange exposure are still waiting on the Department of Veterans Affairs to decide whether it will provide them or their families compensation.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a letter last month he won’t make a decision until late 2020 at the earliest
Within the massive 1,700-page federal funding bill Congress passed and the president signed last month, Congress ordered VA to reveal its plans to add four new diseases to the list of conditions veterans experience that are presumed to be caused by Agent Orange exposure.
Those four diseases are bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension and Parkinson’s-like symptoms.
Congress is requiring VA to provide a detailed explanation for the years-long delay in making a decision on whether to cover those illnesses, along with a cost estimate and a specific date when VA expects the changes to go into effect.
A letter from Wilkie to Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Ranking Member Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., dated Dec. 20, 2019 echoes what Wilkie told reporters last year -- he’s chosen to delay his decision.
“The longer VA continues to drag its feet on expanding the list of conditions associated with Agent Orange, the longer our veterans continue to suffer -- and die -- as a result of their exposure,” Tester said in a statement to Connecting Vets. “It’s time for VA to stop ignoring the overwhelming evidence put forth by scientists, medical experts and veterans and do right by those who served. Any prolonging of their suffering is unacceptable.”
Two years ago, then-VA Secretary David Shulkin decided to add more diseases to the VA's list of health concerns that qualify a veteran for Agent Orange disability benefits. According to documents obtained by a veteran through the Freedom of Information Act and provided to Connecting Vets, White House officials stood in Shulkin's way expressing concern about the cost of covering additional diseases and requesting more research. Military Times first reported on the documents.
Earlier this year, Veterans Health Administration acting head Dr. Richard Stone told Congress VA "hoped" to make a decision on those illnesses "within 90 days," which was previously reported by Connecting Vets.
Expanding the list of health conditions presumed to be caused by Agent Orange exposure could provide disability pay and health benefits to more than 83,000 veterans.
Repeated attempts by Connecting Vets to get an update from VA officials on whether the department had a forthcoming decision have been consistently met with the same statement: "VA has no announcements on Agent Orange presumptive conditions at this time."
A list of the diseases currently linked to Agent Orange and eligible for benefits can be found here.