Congressman Brian Higgins joined Florida Rep. Lois Frankel, along with other members of the House of Representatives, to urge the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to expedite the newly expanded benefits for Vietnam veterans, which would ensure those with parkinsonism, bladder cancer or hypothyroidism caused by exposure to Agent Orange could receive VA disability benefits.
In the letter, the House members stated, “We write to ensure our Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during their military service to our nation get the care they need and deserve. … While we understand the VA is carefully examining the provisions of the law to determine what regulations will be required to implement them, we believe waiting for what can typically take 18-24 months for rulemaking could be a matter of life or death for some of our veterans.”
Agent Orange, used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, has been recognized by the VA to be a cause of certain cancers and other health problems. The VA maintains a list of conditions presumed to be linked to Agent Orange exposure. Veterans diagnosed with a condition on the list may be eligible for disability benefits.
In January, Higgins announced the passage of the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which expanded the list of presumptive diseases to include parkinsonism, bladder cancer and hypothyroidism. For veterans with those diseases to begin receiving disability benefits, the VA must first implement the changes – a process that could take up to 24 months.
In addition to urging for an accelerated implementation process, the letter asks how the VA plans to ensure the veterans are quickly counted in the program, and if anything could be done in the meantime to provide benefits to veterans struggling with these diseases.
Veterans seeking additional information about applying for benefits provided by the VA can contact Higgins’ Buffalo office at 716-852-3501. More information on benefits related to Agent Orange exposure is available on the VA website at: https://www.va.gov/disability/eligibility/hazardous-materials-exposure/agent-orange/.