(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) joined U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) – the Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee – and a group of lawmakers on a letter to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees as they negotiate the final text of the fiscal year (FY) 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), urging the lawmakers to include a landmark Agent Orange exposure bill. The bill, which was included as an amendment to the Senate version of the annual defense legislation that overwhelmingly cleared the chamber in July, would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide benefits to veterans suffering from conditions related to their exposure to the dangerous pesticide Agent Orange.
The Senators wrote, “It is time for Congress to acknowledge the overwhelming scientific evidence put forth by veterans, scientists and medical experts, and to end the wait for more than 34,000 frustrated and desperate veterans living with and dying from these health conditions. Inclusion of this legislation in the conference agreement for the Fiscal Year 2021 NDAA would be consistent with scientific and historic precedent, and is simply the right thing to do for these veterans and their families.”
Currently, 34,000 Vietnam veterans living with chronic health conditions developed as a result of their service are being denied critical benefits and health care from VA. These veterans have been subject to additional and unwarranted delays as a result of the Trump administration’s repeated calls for further evaluation of scientific research—even though such research has already been reviewed by the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), which has established the standard for scientific evidence of association for more than twenty years. The amendment would require VA to provide a presumption of service-connection for Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism—expanding care and benefits for veterans suffering from these three conditions.
A copy of the Senators’ letter can be found here.
Shaheen and Hassan cosponsored Senator Tester’s standalone legislation, the Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act of 2020 , which was introduced in March and supported the amendment including this legislation to the NDAA that cleared the Senate in July.
Senator 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 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 FY2020 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 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.