WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A bipartisan group of senators led by Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) today called on VA Secretary Robert McDonald to ensure that veterans long denied care for exposure to Agent Orange receive timely and proper benefits and compensation. The letter follows a recent Institute of Medicine (IOM) study that provides new and compelling evidence on exposure to Agent Orange of veterans who flew contaminated aircraft after the Vietnam war.
Burr and Merkley were joined in a letter by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Michael Bennet (D-CO).
The IOM study, which was published in January, found “with confidence” that post-Vietnam veterans serving on C-123 aircrafts were exposed to potentially dangerous levels of dioxin from aircrafts that were used to carry and spray Agent Orange during the Vietnam War and that were never properly decontaminated.
According to the study, an estimated 1500-2100 personnel served on the affected planes, and numerous veterans among that group have developed symptoms, including cancer, consistent with Agent Orange exposure.
The senators pushed the VA to reverse previous decisions that have denied veterans benefits and compensation, writing:
“Despite (1) multiple Air Force reports going back to 1979 showing that the C-123s were contaminated, (2) numerous expert opinions from inside and outside the government suggesting these veterans were exposed to Agent Orange and other toxins, and (3) a judge’s order stopping the resale of these C-123s because the planes were a ‘danger to public health,’ the VA to-date has doggedly insisted there is no possibility that post-Vietnam era C-123 veterans might have been exposed to dangerous levels of Agent Orange. It also has denied all but one of the C-123 veterans’ claims for benefits.”
They continued, “It is our desire to see that C-123 veterans who suffer today because of service-related exposure to Agent Orange receive the help they need. To speed the award of benefits, we ask that you provide a presumption of service connection for these veterans.”
The senators also called on the VA to immediately review all C-123 Agent Orange exposure claims, including those that have been denied and are under appeal, and to work with the Department of Defense to proactively contact all veterans who served on any C-123s previously used in Vietnam to spray Agent Orange defoliant that were subsequently assigned to Air Force Reserve units based in the United States from 1972-1982 in order to notify these veterans that they may be eligible for benefits.