Vietnam Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange Reach the End of the Line
September 9, 2014
Many Agent Orange exposed, Vietnam Veterans have heard a Veterans Service Officer say, “Your illness is not on the presumptive illness list, therefore your claim will be denied. Your only hope is to apply, and maybe your illness will be added to the list in the future.”
Today these very veterans are closer to never being acknowledged. The Agent Orange community and Veteran Service Organizations are asleep at the wheel.
Twenty three years ago, Congress passed Public Law 102-4, the Agent Orange Act of 1991.
The Agent Orange Act of 1991, directed Veterans Affairs to engage the National Academy of Sciences to study scientific and medical information regarding the health effects of exposure to herbicides, including Agent Orange used in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
It also required the National Academy of Science to complete this review every two years, for ten years. When the ten year mark was closing in, the Veterans Education and Benefits act of 2001 was passed. The Veterans Education and benefits act of 2001, extended the period for these biennial reports to 2014.
Through the years, the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) have had a significant impact on Vietnam Veterans getting benefits for Agent Orange exposure. The list has grown to fourteen debilitating, often fatal illnesses; including Hodgkin’s Disease, Ischemic Heart disease, Type II diabetes, soft tissue sarcomas, Multiple Myeloma, among others.
For new illnesses to be added to the presumptive list, the IOM committee must show through their review of data, a correlation between herbicide exposure and the presenting illness. Once causation is shown, the IOM gives the data to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. If the Secretary concludes that a presumption of service connection is warranted, he or she must issue regulations within 60 days of the determination. This process is how illnesses are recognized and veterans are compensated.
If there are no more biennial scientific reviews, there will be no new illnesses added to the presumptive list. The Veterans Education and Benefits Act of 2001 expires in just a few weeks, in October. If something is not done to extend the legislation it is the proverbial, “end of the line,” for many ill, but still hopeful Vietnam Veterans, their families, and their Veterans Service Officers.
Mary Paxton, the study director at the Institute of Medicine, confirmed by telephone Tuesday, the mandate ends in October. She stated there will be one more, Veterans and Agent Orange Update. It will review research that has been completed between 2012 and 2014. As the law stands now, there is just one more opportunity for illnesses to be added to the presumptive list.
The research that will be considered has been completed, now the committee will start its review. Many people will be waiting on the final word from the IOM and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. What will be added if anything?
This is just another punch to the gut, for Vietnam Veterans who have endured so much uncertainty about their herbicide exposure. Too many unanswered questions remain regarding the long lasting effects of herbicide exposure to give up. The only hope for these Vietnam Veterans is if the studies are extended. It won’t be easy as a legal court challenge in 2007 that sought to extend the studies was defeated.
Veterans and their families need to contact their State Representatives and Veteran service organizations and implore them to fight against letting these studies go away. If this important mandate falls to the way side it will be yet another tragedy in the lives of Vietnam Veterans suffering from Agent Orange exposure.
Heather Bowser, Co Founder and National Coordinator of Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance, www.covvha.net, is the daughter of a deceased Vietnam Veteran who died young as a result of his Agent Orange exposure while serving in the Armed Services. Contact Heather at Hbowser@covvha.net