Harder, Veterans Groups Launch Final Effort to Secure Support for Vietnam Veterans Left Behind by VA
WASHINGTON – This week, Representative Josh Harder (CA-10) and the largest veterans groups in the United States announced a final effort to secure coverage for Vietnam Veterans exposed to Agent Orange but who are unable to access support from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Legislation based on a bill Rep. Harder introduced was included in the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but to become law it must be included in final negotiations. Rep. Harder is leading a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in the House to demand the negotiators retain the provision which will expand benefits through a letter. Outside veterans group are launching their own effort to encourage their membership to contact members of Congress to encourage them to sign on to the push.
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“Everyone talks a big game on supporting veterans, but both parties have failed to resolve this problem for decades,” said Rep. Harder. “These heroes already rendered their services to the American people – and now it’s our turn to hold up our end of the deal. Veterans who served and got sick as a result deserve support. That’s what’s at stake here.”
Vietnam Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and have certain medical conditions get access to benefits and support through the VA. However, veterans with bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinson’s-like symptoms are not included– despite comprehensive medical evidence linking these conditions to Agent Orange exposure.
Earlier this year, Rep. Harder introduced The Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act, which would ensure Vietnam Veterans with those three conditions get access to the benefits through the VA. The bill passed as an amendment to the Senate version of the annual must-pass NDAA, known as the “Defense Bill.” To become law, the amendment must now be included in the final version of the legislation.
Yesterday, Rep. Harder and the veterans organizations held a virtual press event to announce the kick off of the campaign. During the event, the veterans organizations announced their own complimentary effort to encourage veterans around the country to write their elected officials asking them to include this legislation in that bill.
Dozens of veterans organizations are applying outside pressure to Congress, including The American Legion, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Veterans of Foreign Wars of the US (VFW), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), the Fleet Reserve Association (FRA), TREA: The Enlisted Association, the Association of the United States Navy, the Air Force Sergeants Association, and Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Military Veterans Advocacy, Inc.
The text of the letter is below.
Dear Chairman Smith, Chairman Inhofe, Ranking Member Thornberry, and Ranking Member Reed:
As you work to finalize a conference agreement on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), we urge you to retain the bipartisan Harder/Tester amendment that ensures our Vietnam veterans receive benefits they are owed from their service.
The Harder/Tester amendment included in the Senate NDAA legislation would add three diseases to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) list of illnesses presumed to be linked to Agent Orange. This would provide health care and disability benefits to thousands of veterans who are living with bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinsonism.
Despite the results shown by The National Academy of Medicine (NAM), which has found a link between these three conditions and exposure to Agent Orange, the VA claims there is not sufficient scientific evidence to add them to the list of presumptive conditions. Former VA Secretary David Shulkin attempted to get these conditions added, but he was prevented by the Director of the Office and Management and Budget (OMB) and other Administration officials.
This is a top priority for many of our veterans and their families. Over thirty veterans’ advocacy organizations have sent a letter to House and Senate leadership insisting that this amendment be included in the NDAA bill and the Senate amendment passed with overwhelming support on a vote of 94-6.
Our Vietnam veterans should not have to wait any longer for the recognition they deserve and the benefits they are owed. Ensuring this bipartisan and bicameral amendment remains in the final NDAA bill will mean that thousands of veterans will finally get the support they need due to their sacrifice and service.