Bipartisan Group of Senators Urge Action from VA for Care & Benefits of C-123 Veterans Exposed to Toxic Agent Orange
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote to Department of Veterans’ Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald requesting that the department utilize its existing statutory authority to provide care and benefits to veterans exposed to toxic herbicide residue decades ago while they served on aircraft used to spray Agent Orange in Vietnam.
“Justice for these veterans is long overdue and you have the authority and the ability to finally right this wrong,” the Senators wrote. "For nearly four years, the VA denied these reservists’ exposure to toxic Agent Orange residue in contaminated C-123s. On January 9, 2015, the Institute of Medicine issued a final report… which ‘emphatically' rejected VA’s assertion as to exposure. As a result, we understand you conceded that this group of veterans was, in fact, exposed to toxic Agent Orange herbicide. However, we also understand a question has arisen about whether some of these reserve airmen satisfy the statutory definition of ‘veteran' for purposes of eligibility for VA benefits. We fundamentally disagree and believe VA’s precedential interpretations of the relevant statute and the policy principle and legal precedent of construing statutes in favor of veterans requires VA to find these reservists eligible for benefits. We ask that you stand by those interpretations, which we outline in this letter, and which show that no additional statutory authority is necessary for you to immediately begin providing care and benefits to the C-123 veterans.”