02 May 2015

Senator Jeff Merkley (Oregon) – Statement of Support for C-123 Agent Orange Veterans

Senator Merkley and his colleagues insist
that VA act now for C-123 veterans

Washington, D.C.  May 1, 2015   STATEMENT:

The Vietnam War ended almost 40 years ago, but some of our veterans are still suffering long-term health issues as a result of that war.  And there's at least one group of veterans who never even served in Vietnam, yet are casualties of the war nonetheless.  It's time to get them the health care they need and deserve.

Their story stems from their service aboard Fairchild C-123 planes in the '70s and early '80s.  Those planes were used to spray Agent Orange during the war, but were never properly decontaminated. An estimated 1,500 to 2,100 of our service members, including many reservists, trained and served on those planes until they were decommissioned in 1982, exposing them to dangerous levels of dioxins.

For nearly four years, I have worked to get the VA to recognize the claims of post-Vietnam veterans who flew in these contaminated planes.  Earlier this year, an Institute of Medicine study confirmed what I had been telling the VA for years: post-Vietnam veterans who served on the affected planes were exposed to potentially dangerous levels of dioxins - deadly compounds found in Agent Orange and other herbicides.

Recently, the VA took the first step towards ensuring veterans with diseases resulting from that exposure receive the proper benefits and compensation they deserve.  But our work is far from over.  The VA is still refusing to help former reservists.

Last week, I called on VA Secretary Robert McDonald to take the next step and extend full benefits and compensation to all affected C-123 veterans -- including reservists, who may constitute a vast majority of those affected.

Taking care of our service members is fundamental to who we are as a nation. We must uphold our promise to those who wear the uniform and fight for our nation. In the coming weeks, I will continue to push the VA to ensure that C-123 veterans get the help they deserve. They have stood up for us, and we must stand up for them.

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