Senate Veterans Committee wants hypertension added to disability payments.
According to MilitaryTimes.com, Senators in the Veterans’ Affairs Committee (VAC) are seeking this year to have hypertension (high blood pressure) officially added to the list of diseases presumably caused by the highly toxic herbicide and defoliant chemical, Agent Orange, which was manufactured by the Monsanto Corporation for the U.S. military.
The Veterans Administration says that “Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange may have certain related illnesses.” Should high blood pressure be added to the list of illnesses presumably caused by Agent Orange exposure, over 160,000 veterans could receive benefits or have said benefits increased.
The Senate VAC chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) told The Military Times, that the issue will be a major early focus for the committee, and that legislative fixes for the issue have already begun.
MilitaryTimes.com reports that Tester and committee ranking member Jerry Moran, (R-KS), recently sent a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough, requesting that the issue be fast-tracked.
“For too long government responses to certain cohorts of veterans have proved that the system to care for those affected by toxic exposures needs reform,” the pair wrote.
McDonough pledged recently in a press conference that the connection between Agent Orange and hypertension would be re-examined.
Does Science Support The Link Between High Blood Pressure & Agent Orange Exposure?
MiltaryTimes.com says that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine have indicated there is a likely connection between the two. However, past VA leaders have said the evidence is too weak to offer presumptive disability benefits status for all Vietnam veterans.
How Much Could Vietnam Veterans Receive With New Agent Orange Disability Payouts?
If hypertension is added to the presumptive list of illnesses, approximately $15 billion would be distributed in new disability payouts over the next decade, MilitaryTimes.com reports, which adds that VA Secretary McDonough told reporters, “People often are inclined to focus first on the cost, [but] I want to focus first on the facts and on the data.”
What Proof Do Vets Have To Supply?
In order to receive disability benefits, veterans typically have to prove that their condition(s) was caused directly because of their military service. This includes exposure to toxic chemicals. However, because Agent Orange was so heavily sprayed during the Vietnam war, over the last several years, the VA and Congress have made it easier for veterans to receive disability benefits for certain illnesses (see below).
For exposure to other toxic chemicals that were not heavily sprayed, veterans may have a more difficult time proving direct causation. In such instances, veterans would have to supply medical and duty records, which may sometimes be difficult to obtain if said records have deteriorated or disappeared, MiltaryTimes.com says.
Vietnam veterans who have high blood pressure need only prove that they have the condition and served in Vietnam during the fighting. (Agent Orange was also sprayed in Thailand and Korea during the Vietnam War.)
What Other Conditions Are Caused By Agent Orange?
In 2020, three illnesses were added to the presumptive list: bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinson’s-like symptoms. Payouts for these conditions by the VA have not yet materialized; details are still being worked out.
According to the VA, other diseases associated with Agent Orange include:
Chronic B-cell Leukemias
Chloracne (or similar acneform disease)
Diabetes Mellitus Type 2
Ischemic Heart Disease
Peripheral Neuropathy, Early-Onset
Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
Respiratory Cancers (includes lung cancer)
Soft Tissue Sarcomas (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma)
How Many Service Members Were Exposed To Agent Orange?
ProPublica.com says that from 1962 to 1971, millions of gallons of Agent Orange as well as other weed killers were sprayed by the U.S. military over Vietnam. It’s estimated that as many as 2.6 million U.S. service members were exposed to Agent Orange.
Were Children Of Vietnam Vets Exposed To Agent Orange Also Affected?
An exhaustive report by ProPublica on the children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange says that in 1979, a team of researchers had embarked on a $143 million, 20-year study of Air Force vets who sprayed the jungle-clearing toxic chemical, and thus had the most exposure. The study included blood, semen and urine samples. Five years into the study, the researchers concluded that children born to exposed Air Force vets after the war had more defects than children of those who hadn’t handled Agent Orange.
However, those findings were suppressed by the military, according to ProPublica’s report, “The Children of Agent Orange.”