Source: United States Senator for New Hampshire Jeanne Shaheen
February 12, 2020
**Following VA report, Senators join Veterans Service Organizations and afflicted veterans in calling for the expansion of presumptive conditions**
(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) sent a letter with a group of Senators condemning the Trump administration for delaying critical benefits to Vietnam veterans suffering from health conditions associated with their exposure to Agent Orange. In their letter, the Senators specifically 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. The offices of Senators Shaheen and Hassan assist veterans throughout New Hampshire experiencing difficulties receiving the care they’re owed by the VA, including many who have conditions from their exposure to Agent Orange.
“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 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, the 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 (NAESM) reports. However, in a recent report required by Congress in the Fiscal Year 2020 Appropriations bill, the 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 NAESM scientists. The 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.”
Veterans Service Organizations also weighed in on the issue, condemning the Administration for continuing unnecessary and pernicious delays in justice for Vietnam veterans suffering from service-connected illnesses.
Read the full letter HERE.
Senators Shaheen and Hassan have worked tirelessly to advocate on behalf of Granite State veterans. Shaheen and Hassan were cosponsors of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which was signed into law last June and will create a permanent legislative fix to help ensure “Blue Water” Navy veterans get the disability and health care benefits they deserve as a result of exposure to the dangerous pesticide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. In December 2019, Shaheen sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie requesting that the Department explain its delay in addressing the backlog of payment claims to health care providers in the community. The final version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed into law the same month included a provision Shaheen and Hassan fought for that eliminates the military “widow’s tax” that prevents as many as 65,000 surviving military spouses nationwide from receiving their full Department of Defense (DOD) and VA survivor benefits. Last November, Shaheen introduced legislation, the Acupuncture for our Heroes Act, to expand access to acupuncturist services for veterans enrolled in the VA health care system and provide an alternative to opioids for veterans suffering from chronic pain. In June 2019, Shaheen and Hassan sent a letter to the VA requesting information on the Department’s plans to repay $286.4 million in home loan fees that were erroneously charged to thousands of exempted veterans as part of the VA Home Loan Program.
In 2018, Senator Shaheen worked to include a provision in the VA MISSION Act – which was signed into law – ensuring every veteran in New Hampshire has access to care in the community. This was a top priority for Shaheen as New Hampshire does not have a full-service VA medical facility. Under the previous VA community care program, Senator Shaheen introduced the Veterans Choice Card Prompt Payment Act to expedite payment to providers who serve veterans.