As Many as 90,000 Veterans Could Become Eligible
WASHINGTON—With as many as 90,000 veterans waiting in the wings to apply for benefits, the VA said it will be ready to handle the influx of new claims when the provisions of the Blue Water Navy Act go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
That act gives presumptive benefits status to veterans who served off the coast of Vietnam during the Vietnam War, presuming that those veterans were been exposed to the toxic effects of Agent Orange. As many as 90,000 veterans suffering from conditions linked to Agent Orange exposure could be eligible for benefits under the legislation. While the legislation was signed into law this past summer, VA requested a stay until the beginning of 2020 to allow the department to prepare for the expected claims surge.
At the same time, however, legislators are up in arms over new delays—these coming from the Office of Management and Budget—blocking the inclusion of bladder cancer, hyperthyroidism, Parkinsonism and hypertension to the presumptive list of Agent Orange-related ailments. Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by a veteran, legislators learned that VA leaders attempted to add three of those conditions to the list two years ago but were blocked by the White House. According to the released documents, OMB officials cited inadequate scientific support and concerns over the impact to VA’s budget as the primary reasons for blocking the additions.
Last month, Senate Democrats sent a letter to OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, insisting the agency stop blocking the inclusions, noting that the science backing the inclusion of these diseases to the list is sound. They cited a 2014 update from the National Academies of Medicine listing hypothyroidism and bladder cancer as having “limited or suggestive evidence of an association.” The same report broadened the definition of Parkinson’s disease to include Parkinson’s-like symptoms or Parkinsonism. The letter also cites a NAM report from 2019 moving hypertension from the “limited or suggestive” category to the “sufficient evidence of an association” category.
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