Tester: It's Past Time for the VA to Do Right by Veterans Suffering from Toxic Exposure

Senator Introduces Bill to Treat Medical Conditions Linked to Toxic Exposure

(U.S. Senate) – Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Jon Tester is taking the VA to task for waiting more than 900 days to make a decision on expanding the list of medical conditions associated with presumed exposure to Agent Orange.

In March 2016, the National Academy of Medicine recommended the VA expand its list of presumptive medical conditions to include bladder cancer, hyperthyroidism and Parkinson’s Disease-like conditions. While historically required to respond to the Academy’s recommendations within 60 days, the VA has yet to respond. Tester’s bill requires the VA to make a timely decision on these and all future recommendations from the Academy.

“It shouldn’t take an act of Congress for the VA to acknowledge that Agent Orange is hurting Montana veterans,” said Tester. “It’s been 937 days and the VA has not issued a decision. Our bill sends a clear message to the VA: it’s past time to do right by veterans suffering from toxic exposure.”

On three separate occasions, Tester has pushed the VA to make a decision on the National Academy of Medicine’s report.

In September 2017, Tester led a group of Senators in demanding the VA make a decision on the Academy’s report. He repeated the call to act in March 2018. In April 2018, Tester urged the Office of Management and Budget to assist the VA in adding bladder cancer, hyperthyroidism and Parkinson’s Disease-like conditions to the list of presumptive medical conditions. While the VA responded once with a promise to make a decision by November 1, 2017, no decision has been issued.

Tester has led the fight in Congress to pass the bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which changes the law to expand presumption of toxic exposure to veterans who served in the waters off Vietnam and give them eligibility for service-connected disability benefits. He fought to make sure that bill included the bipartisan Fairness for Korean DMZ Veterans Act, which would expand presumption to veterans who served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone between Sept. 1, 1967 and Aug. 31, 1971.

Tester also introduced bipartisan legislation to extend presumption to more veterans who served on or near the perimeters of military bases in Thailand during the Vietnam War era and extend VA benefits and health care to children of these veterans with spina bifida.

Tester wrote bipartisan legislation that was signed into law to declassify the military records of Billings veteran John Olsen, who served in the U.S. Navy and participated in the classified Project SHAD. Project SHAD tested the vulnerability of naval vessels and personnel to chemical and biological attacks in the mid-1960s. To date, Olsen has battled cancer four times, but was unable to access his own service records to establish a service-connected condition.