WASHINGTON – After spending months fighting to ensure that Vietnam Veterans with Agent Orange-related health conditions not currently covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) receive their benefits, Representative Josh Harder (CA-10) announced that he will be joined at the 2020 State of the Union by someone directly impacted by the lack of coverage – local veteran Joshua Melendez of Modesto. During his service, Melendez spent time on helicopters, which kicked up dust and residue from Agent Orange sprayed on the jungle. Mr. Melendez’s story was covered by local news outlet Fox 40 last month.
“I’m honored to have Joshua join us for the State of the Union next week – and I know he’s also looking forward to visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial,” said Rep. Harder. “Joshua served our country and shouldn’t have to be fighting to get the care he deserves because a bureaucrat wants to save a buck.”
Although the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) has found a link between these four conditions and exposure to Agent Orange, the VA has claimed there is not sufficient scientific evidence to justify adding the conditions to the list. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie recently told Senators the decision on whether to add the conditions wouldn’t come until at least “late 2020.” However, last year, the VA told Congress a decision would be made by July 2019.
Former VA Secretary David Shulkin attempted to add these four conditions to the presumptive list in 2019, but records obtained by Military Times and Freedom of Information requests indicate that Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director and White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney intervened to prevent the addition of these conditions over cost concerns.
Earlier this month, Rep. Harder and Republican Pete Stauber (MN-08) introduced the bipartisan Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act, which would add the four conditions to the presumptive list to ensure qualifying veterans get automatic access to benefits. The bill has been endorsed by Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Paralyzed Veterans of America, and the Fleet Reserve Association.
Representative Harder previously introduced a House Resolution alongside Senator Sherrod Brown to encourage the president to add the conditions to the presumptive list. In addition to introducing the bill and resolution, Rep. Harder, along with House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano (CA-41) wrote a letter directly to Mick Mulvaney demanding that he stop his campaign to prevent these veterans from obtaining health care coverage for their conditions.
In June, President Trump signed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act into law, legislation Rep. Harder cosponsored and voted to pass through the House of Representatives. The new law guarantees that Navy Veterans get the same access to coverage for Agent Orange-related health conditions as their counterparts who served on land. Following the law’s passage, Rep. Harder held a workshop to help dozens of area veterans apply for their new health care benefits.
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