Ross: "We must do all we can to help our veterans who are suffering"
WASHINGTON, D.C., Apr. 5, 2017 – U.S. Rep. Dennis A. Ross (R-FL-15), Senior Deputy Majority Whip, released the following statement in response to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s hearing today on H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, bipartisan legislation that would provide presumptive Agent Orange exposure status to veterans who served in the waters off the coast of Vietnam during the Vietnam War so they may receive Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits for their Agent Orange-related diseases:
“I am happy to see H.R. 299 finally making its way through the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and gaining much needed traction so our brave and selfless Vietnam veterans may receive the care and benefits they earned. I proudly cosponsored this important piece of legislation, along with 257 of my colleagues, because we must do all we can to help our veterans who are suffering from diseases they developed in service to their country.
“Many of my very own constituents have been denied claims by the VA in connection to Agent Orange exposure, including retired U.S. Merchant Marine Capt. Thomas Walden of Plant City, and it is completely unacceptable. These courageous veterans put their lives on the line to serve and protect our great nation and its people, and it is unacceptable that in their time of need, the VA is turning its back on them. There is absolutely no reason these veterans should not qualify for VA care and benefits.
“To further help our Vietnam veterans, I also introduced the FOSTER Act, which would grant presumptive Agent Orange exposure status to veterans who served in specific areas outside of Vietnam and Thailand during the Vietnam War and also suffer from any of the diseases the U.S. Government has linked to Agent Orange. Currently, the DOD denies Agent Orange was ever used outside Vietnam and Thailand despite the influx of veterans coming forth with claims of exposure and diseases outside the areas, such as retired U.S. Air Force MSgt. Leroy Foster of Lakeland, who claims he personally sprayed Agent Orange in Guam while serving at Andersen Air Force Base during the Vietnam War.
“Since I was first elected, I have fought to make the VA more responsive to our veterans. They are the backbone of the freedom and prosperity America has enjoyed for more than two hundred years, and I refuse to let their sacrifices and service go undervalued and unnoticed. Turning our backs on them is truly un-American. I promise to keep fighting for those who put our lives before their own so they can receive the care they deserve. ”
Agent Orange in the Vietnam War:
~ Between 1962 and 1971, the U.S. military sprayed Agent Orange and other herbicides on trees and vegetation that provided enemy cover during the Vietnam War.
~ More than 19 million gallons of various “rainbow” herbicide combinations were sprayed, but Agent Orange was the combination the U.S. military used most often.
~ The Agent Orange Act of 1991 (AOA) empowered the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to declare certain illnesses “presumptive” to exposure to Agent Orange and enabled veterans to receive disability compensation for these related conditions. This "presumptive policy" simplifies the process for receiving compensation for these diseases since VA foregoes the normal requirements of proving that an illness began during or was worsened by military service.
~ Only veterans who actually stepped foot on Vietnamese soil are extended the presumption of coverage.
~ The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) currently states Agent Orange was not used outside of Vietnam and Thailand.
~ If veterans’ diseases and/or exposure locations fall outside of the current VA lists of confirmed diseases and exposure locations, the veterans must show an actual connection between the disease and herbicide exposure during military service. There is no presumption in such cases, and many claims are denied.
~ DOD acknowledged exposure by location (presumptive status confirmed for VA benefits):
~ Case-by-case exposure (presumptive status unconfirmed for VA benefits):
~ Diseases include, but are not limited to, heart disease, multiple cancers, diabetes, Hodgkin’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and birth defects.