VA hasn't delivered on promise to rule on Agent Orange-linked diseases 5 months later

Abbie Bennett
August 16, 2019 - 12:58 pm
AgentOrange

In March, Veterans Health Administration acting head Dr. Richard Stone told senators VA "hoped" to make a decision on whether to grant disability benefits to veterans with illnesses linked to Agent Orange "within 90 days."

But that deadline has gone and past -- and nearly five months later, there's still no decision, Department of Veterans Affairs officials told Connecting Vets Aug. 16.

An Institute of Medicine report in 2016 found evidence that bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease have likely links to the toxic herbicide. In 2018, the National Academies of Sciences found evidence linking hypertension, or high blood pressure, to Agent Orange as well.

But the VA has not made a decision that would include those diseases in a list of health concerns presumed to be caused by the toxin. 

Connecting Vets reached out to VA earlier this month for an update on whether the agency had a forthcoming decision. 

On Aug 16, Susan Carter, director of the VA Office of Media Relations, sent an email that read:  "VA has no announcements on Agent Orange presumptive conditions at this time."

That's the same message another VA spokesperson released July 1. 

When asked if there was a timeline for making the decision, Carter sent the same statement again. 

Potentially adding more common conditions such as hypertension as a presumed service-connected illness, means thousands more veterans could qualify for benefits, costing billions more in coming years.

This five-month delay is the latest roadblock for veterans exposed to Agent Orange seeking disability benefits

Earlier this summer, some veterans won a landmark victory after fighting to receive presumptive disability benefits from VA for decades. Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans now qualify for disability benefits based on the Procopio v. Wilkie court decision and a controversial piece of legislation recently signed by President Donald Trump. 

Following the president signing the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act into law, Connecting Vets first reported that VA Secretary Robert Wilkie had issued a stay on processing those claims, effectively delaying them until Jan. 1, 2020. 

Wilkie's choice to delay those claims has spawned a lawsuit from veterans who say they are particularly concerned that many aging and ill veterans may not make it to January and could die before they ever see the benefits they so recently won.

The same can be said of veterans with the other illnesses linked to Agent Orange exposure dating back to Vietnam -- though they have no concrete deadline to look toward so far. 

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Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.

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