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Harder, Veterans Groups Make Final Push to Secure Support for Vietnam Veterans Left Behind by VA

WASHINGTON – Today, Representative Josh Harder (CA-10) led a bipartisan letter alongside 111 of his colleagues asking Congressional negotiators to include his legislation benefitting Vietnam Veterans in the final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA – also known as the “Defense Bill”). Many Vietnam Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and developed particular conditions are currently unable to get certain benefits and care from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA). Legislation based on Rep. Harder’s bill was included in the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but to become law it must be included in the final negotiated version.

“This is the last chance that members of both parties have to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to veterans,” said Rep. Harder. “There’s a lot of happy talk when it comes to helping vets – but unless we actually provide the support these folks need, the words are empty.”

Vietnam Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and have certain medical conditions get access to benefits and support through the VA. However, veterans with bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinson’s-like symptoms are not included – despite comprehensive medical evidence linking these conditions to Agent Orange exposure.

Earlier this year, Rep. Harder introduced The Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act, which would ensure Vietnam Veterans with those three conditions get access to the benefits through the VA. The bill passed as an amendment to the Senate version of the annual must-pass defense bill To become law, the amendment must now be included in the final version of the legislation.

In August, Rep. Harder and the veterans organizations held a virtual press event to announce the kick off of the campaign. During the event, the veterans’ organizations announced their own complimentary effort to encourage veterans around the country to write their elected officials asking them to include this legislation in that bill.

Representative Harder is joined on the letter by Representatives Stauber, Takano, DeFazio, Tlaib, Luján, Titus, Bustos, Phillips, Fitzpatrick, Lynch, Hastings, Mike Thompson, Costa, Neal, Horsford, San Nicolas, Cicilline, Holmes Norton, Krshnamoorthi, Grothman, Young, Welch, Grijalva, Carson, Peterson, Lamb, Demings, Van Drew, Brindisi, Suozzi, Escobar, Crow, Cisneros, Hayes, Kim, Wild, McMorris Rodgers, Alma Adams, Carolyn B. Maloney, Peter King, McGovern, Luria, Pingree, Westerman, Moore, Walorski, Sablan, Cárdenas, Rutherford, Haaland, Frankel, Cox, Frederica Wilson, Craig, Horn, Baird, Lynch, Rose, Heck, Dingell, Axne, Panetta, Schakowsky, Dean, Lofgren, Barragán, Lawson, Byrne, Cunningham, Gottheimer, Barbara Lee, Napolitano, Neguse, Rodney Davis, Radewagen, Swalwell, Velázquez, Posey, Reed, Andy Levin, Pappas, Sánchez, Boyle, Gabbard, Kilmer, Kuster, Blunt Rochester, O’Halleran, Connolly, Mike Levin, Susie Lee, Latta, Moulton, Foster, Chu, Zeldin, Carbajal, Trone, Sandford Bishop, Lieu, Price, Lipinski, Garamendi, Wexton, McNerney, Torres Small, Ryan, Trahan, Hagedorn, and Rouda.

The effort is supported by the largest veterans organizations in the country, including The American Legion, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), Veterans of Foreign Wars of the US (VFW), Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Fleet Reserve Association (FRA), TREA: The Enlisted Association, United States Army Warrant Officers Association, VetsFirst, United Spinal Association, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Association of the United States Navy, Air Force Sergeants Association, Gold Star Wives of America, Inc., Military Veterans Advocacy, Inc., The Military Order of the Purple Heart, Michael J. Fox Foundation, Lewy Body Dementia Association, Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network (BCAN).

The text of the letter is below and an original version is available here.

Dear Chairman Smith, Chairman Inhofe, Ranking Member Thornberry, and Ranking Member Reed:

As you work to finalize a conference agreement on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), we urge you to retain the bipartisan Harder/Tester amendment that ensures our Vietnam veterans receive benefits they are owed from their service.

The Harder/Tester amendment included in the Senate NDAA legislation would add three diseases to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) list of illnesses presumed to be linked to Agent Orange. This would provide health care and disability benefits to thousands of veterans who are living with bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinsonism.

Despite the results shown by The National Academy of Medicine (NAM), which has found a link between these three conditions and exposure to Agent Orange, the VA claims there is not sufficient scientific evidence to add them to the list of presumptive conditions. Former VA Secretary David Shulkin attempted to get these conditions added, but he was prevented by the Director of the Office and Management and Budget (OMB) and other Administration officials. 

This is a top priority for many of our veterans and their families. Over thirty veterans’ advocacy organizations have sent a letter to House and Senate leadership insisting that this amendment be included in the NDAA bill and the Senate amendment passed with overwhelming support on a vote of 94-6.

Our Vietnam veterans should not have to wait any longer for the recognition they deserve and the benefits they are owed. Ensuring this bipartisan and bicameral amendment remains in the final NDAA bill will mean that thousands of veterans will finally get the support they need due to their sacrifice and service.

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