NBC Montana: Tester's Agent Orange bill expected to move forward in defense bill, Trump signals veto

by Maritsa Georgiou

In the next day, the U.S. Senate is expected to pass a defense bill with an amendment that would provide additional VA benefits to veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

The provision sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester adds three conditions to the list of Agent Orange-related medical conditions covered for veterans through the VA — hypothyroidism, bladder cancer and Parkinson’s disease — conditions roughly 34,000 veterans suffer from.

The bill aims to make sure vets who have those conditions are in a higher priority group so they don’t have to wait months to get in the door, as described by a Vietnam veteran from Deer Lodge on a press call Thursday.

“Back when I first realized something really wrong with me, you know it would take months to get into the VA, you know it could take up to four months,” said veteran Rodney Williams. “And you know, when I approached him about one thing or another, to make an appointment, they’d say ‘Well, four months down the road.’ I said, ‘What if I’m dying or something?’ They said, ‘Well, four months.'”

Not included in the bill is hypertension, although Tester says it needs to be covered.

“We tried to get it in this bill, but we didn’t get it in this bill, because we had pushback for some that thought it cost too much money,” Tester said. “And by the way, it does cost a lot of money. But when we send our young men and women off to war, you know, part of that cost of war is making sure we take care of them when they get back home, because of the exposures they’ve had when they’ve been in war zones.”

Tester says there will be retroactive eligibility for veterans going back to 1985.

A spokesperson for Sen. Steve Daines says he supports the effort and signed on to a letter saying so in September.

President Donald Trump has signaled he will veto the larger defense bill unless it ends protections for internet companies that shield them from being liable for material posted by users. Tester said Thursday he thinks it would be a mistake for the president to do that and hopes they have enough votes to override a veto, should that happen.