Chuck Schumer

ITHACA, N.Y. — Sen. Chuck Schumer was in Ithaca on Thursday, calling on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to expand the list of diseases linked with exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides for veterans during the Vietnam war.

Schumer, who has made stops across the state this week to pressure the Trump administration to act, explained that under the Agent Orange Act of 1991, the VA automatically accepts that if a Vietnam Veteran served in Vietnam between January 1962 and May 1975, it is probable that the veteran was exposed to an herbicide agent like Agent Orange. The Act also established a list of “presumed” diseases that the VA believes are caused by Agent Orange exposure. The VA will compensate the veteran and his or her family if they are found to be suffering from one of the presumed illness.

“It’s unfathomable that the administration is refusing to do right by our nation’s veterans, including the more than 240,000 New York veterans that bravely served during the Vietnam era, and has unilaterally blocked the VA from expanding healthcare benefits to those exposed to Agent Orange,” said Sen. Schumer. “After years and years of kicking the can down the road, it is high time for the federal government to accept the substantial proof linking bladder cancer, hypertension, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism to Agent Orange exposure, and add these conditions to the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list.”

A 2016 National Academies report found evidence linking bladder cancer and hypothyroidism with veterans’ service. The report also clarified that veterans with “Parkinson-like symptoms” should be considered eligible under the presumption that Parkinson’s disease and veterans’ service are connected.

Despite the scientific evidence linking these conditions to Agent Orange exposure, they are not currently on the VA’s list of recognized conditions, according to Schumer.

Following this report, former VA Secretary David Shulkin announced that he would be adding the three conditions to the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list in the near future—which would allow Vietnam War-era stricken by these illnesses to receive health care benefits-but that announcement never came.

If a condition isn’t specifically included on the presumptive conditions list, then the veterans and their families are left to argue their claim in a lengthy appeals process that can last years and often end in a denial. In many cases, the veteran will die before the process is even concluded, said Schumer.

The senator announced a letter to OMB and the VA demanding a detailed explanation as to why the offices have continued to block billions in health care coverage and benefits for thousands of Vietnam veterans.

“It is absolutely incumbent on the administration to do everything within its power to clear a path for the VA, add these conditions to the list of Agent Orange illnesses, and finally allow veterans who are currently suffering access to the healthcare and benefits they rightly deserve,” Schumer added. “It’s not just the right thing to do, but it’s the very least we owe the brave New Yorkers who served and defended our country.” 

Sen. Schumer was joined a number of county legislators as well as Mayor Svante Myrick, as well as about a dozen local vets, including Director of Tompkins County Veteran Services J.R. Clairborne, who served eight years in the United States Navy and U.S. Naval Air Reserve.

“Many of our military Veterans put their lives on the line in defense of our nation. Providing care for the maladies connected to Agent Orange and similar exposures seems the least that our leaders should do in obligation, and in thanks,” said Clairborne. “Particularly for our older Veterans who are suffering from service-connected health conditions seen and unseen, effective and immediate advocacy at the highest levels of government is needed.”

The current list of presumed conditions includes:

  • Amyloid light-chain (AL) amyloidosis
  • Chloracne, or other acneform disease consistent with chloracne
  • Chronic B-cell leukemias
  • Diabetes mellitus, Type 2
  • Ischemic heart disease
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma, formerly known as Hodgkin’s disease
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Peripheral neuropathy, early-onset
  • Porphyria cutanea tarda
  • Prostate cancer
  • Respiratory cancers (lung, bronchus, larynx or trachea)
  • Soft-tissue sarcoma (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma).