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Daily News Blog

09
Jan

At a Time of Precarious Military Actions, Trump Administration Delays Benefits to Agent Orange Veterans

US Army APC spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam

U.S. Army APC spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam.

(Beyond Pesticides, January 9, 2020) United States military veterans suffering from bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension and Parkinson’s-like symptoms after their exposure to Agent Orange will remain unprotected and uncompensated until at least late 2020, a letter sent by Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie to U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) indicates. Congress included a provision in the must-pass December federal spending bill requiring VA to provide legislators “a detailed explanation” for the now multi-year delay in determining whether to list the diseases. This is seen by advocates for veterans as a serious lack of support and compensation just at a time when the current administration mobilizes the military.

According to Military Times, 83,000 veterans suffer from bladder cancer, Parkinson’s-like symptoms or hypothyroidism, and an untold number have high blood pressure. The paper interviewed Army Sgt. Maj. John Mennitto, who explained, “Since we first spoke in 2016, I have been diagnosed with bladder cancer. . . I also have hypothyroidism. My greatest concern for me and my fellow veterans who have debilitating diseases caused by exposure to Agent Orange is that our family members will be left with nothing.”

A robust 2014 review by the National Academy of Medicine recommended including the aforementioned diseases in the current list of eligible conditions. The VA indicated a listing decision would come down on November 1, 2017, but instead, a short VA press release simply quoted then-Secretary David Shulkin saying he would “further explore new presumptive conditions.”

Internal documents obtained by a veteran through a FOIA request revealed that Secretary Shulkin had indeed planned to list the diseases. However, the Trump Administration’s Office of Management and Budget Director, Mick Mulvaney, intervened directly, pointing to the costs of expanding protections.

Acting head of the Veteran’s Health Administration, Richard Stone, MD, told Congress in early 2019 that a decision would be made “within 90 days.” That decision did not materialize.  

In October 2019, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) attempted to introduce a resolution requiring the Trump Administration’s VA to list the diseases. However, he was shot down by U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA), who echoed Mr. Mulvaney by citing costs. “It’s time to make sure every that every benefit we promise the veteran we have the money to do it,” he said.

A quote from Rick Weidman, legislative director of Vietnam Veterans for America, to ProPublica after the initial 2017 delay sums up the situation well: “If you can afford the goddamn war, you can afford to take care of the warriors.”

The provision in the Congressional spending bill intended to cut through the ongoing delays, but there is no indication VA is going to meet the 30-day requirement for a detailed explanation. “The longer VA continues to drag its feet on expanding the list of conditions associated with Agent Orange, the longer our veterans continue to suffer — and die — as a result of their exposure,” Senator Tester said in a statement to the news site Connecting Vets. “It’s time for VA to stop ignoring the overwhelming evidence put forth by scientists, medical experts and veterans and do right by those who served. Any prolonging of their suffering is unacceptable.” 

Agent Orange was given its name because it was stored in orange striped drums and contained the active ingredients 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. This formulation was contaminated with the highly toxic 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (also called TCDD or simply dioxin) and is now banned. Not only were soldiers exposed on the battlefield, many veterans who flew in post-Vietnam UC-123 Agent Orange spray aircraft had their health devastated by residual contamination.  

The Vietnam government is part of an ongoing lawsuit against Bayer’s Monsanto for its role in manufacturing the deadly herbicide during the war. Recent reports find that dioxin continues to contaminate Vietnam’s soils, water, sediment, fish, aquatic species, and food supply.

While Agent Orange is banned, a chemical compound that comprised one half of its make-up, 2,4-D, is still one of the most widely used herbicides on lawns, school grounds and parks today. It is considered a possible human carcinogen, and has been linked to liver damage and endocrine disruption in humans, in addition to being toxic to wildlife, pets and beneficial insects. Previous research from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has detected dioxin contamination in a number of 2,4-D herbicide products produced for consumer sale.

It is imperative that a country which asks everything of its soldiers compensate them when they fall ill as a result of their service and through no fault of their own. For more information about the legacy of Agent Orange, see previous Daily News stories on the issue, or view Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide Induced Diseases Database. Help veterans in your community by supporting veteran owned businesses and nonprofit organizations. Veterans looking to go into the organic industry after their service can explore Rodale Institute’s Veteran farmer training program.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Military Times, Connecting Vets

 

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  • Archives

  • Categories

    • ALS (2)
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