(Washington, D.C.) – "Sooner or later, some senator or congressman was going to target benefits earned by veterans," said John Rowan, National President of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). "It seems that Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) is the one who has taken aim and fired."
Senator Coburn, a medical doctor with a well-earned reputation as a fiscal conservative, has offered an amendment to H.R. 2055, the Military Construction and Veterans' Affairs and related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012. His amendment would require proof of a "causal relationship" rather than a "positive association" of certain illnesses to Agent Orange exposure. "If enacted, this measure will significantly restrict Agent Orange benefits and care. VVA vigorously opposes this amendment," Rowan said
"This measure is wrong-headed. It is out of touch with science – and with the intent of the Agent Orange Act of 1991. It attempts to undo two decades of policy. Currently, veterans are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange if they served 'boots-on-the-ground' in Vietnam and, in some instances, along the demilitarized zone in Korea," Rowan said. "If they develop certain maladies that the VA Secretary has determined, on the basis of sound scientific and epidemiological research, that a positive association exists between the exposure and the occurrence of the disease, they are entitled to health-care and disability compensation.
"Congress, in part, settled on this mechanism because it was nearly impossible for Vietnam veterans to prove that their exposure to Agent Orange caused their health conditions, many of which are ultimately fatal," Rowan said. "Requiring a causal relationship, which is well nigh impossible to demonstrate, would essentially mean that benefits due to Agent Orange exposure would be out of reach for Vietnam veterans."
"If the senator feels that Agent Orange benefits and needed medical care ought to be stripped from Vietnam veterans and their families, then he should introduce a bill and arrange to hold a hearing," Rowan said. "But there has been no bill, and no hearing. And if his colleagues really do care about the health of Vietnam veterans, they ought to stand with Vietnam Veterans of America, with all Vietnam veterans and our families, and with most of our colleagues in other Veterans Service Organizations. We call on a bipartisan majority of Senators to reject the ill-advised Coburn amendment out of hand."