Agent Orange Extension Act of 2015: This bill extends for two years the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) presumption of service connection for diseases associated with exposure to certain herbicides, including Agent Orange, with respect to veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975.
The Agent Orange Act of 1991 is amended to extend for two years the authority of the VA to enter into an agreement with the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate the scientific evidence regarding associations between diseases and exposure to dioxin and other chemical compounds in herbicides, including the association between exposure to a herbicide used in U.S. and allied military operations in the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam era and each disease suspected to be associated with such exposure.
The Agent Orange Act of 1991 (AOA) established a presumption of service connection for diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure, relieving Vietnam veterans from the burden of providing evidence that their illness was a result of military service. This bill directed the VA to contract with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to periodically research and review diseases that might be associated with Agent Orange exposure. The VA is required to add diseases the NAS finds to have a positive association to Agent Orange exposure to the VA’s list of presumptive service connected diseases. Since the enactment of the AOA, the NAS has issued reports that have led to the presumption of service connection for diseases such as Parkinson’s, B-cell leukemia and early onset peripheral neuropathy. Without these studies, thousands of Vietnam era veterans would have gone without the benefits they greatly deserve.
The NAS is expected to publish their final report on Agent Orange exposure in March 2016, but the AOA expires on September 30, 2015. If the AOA expires before the final report is issued, the VA would no longer be obligated to review the NAS report or add any new diseases to the presumption of service list, in the process denying thousands of veterans their right to compensation. In order to fulfil the intent of the original law, the Agent Orange Extension Act of 2015 extends AOA by two years, thus allowing for the VA to add any new diseases released in the next NAS report.
Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN) recently introduced the Agent Orange Extension Act of 2015, which extends the original deadline issued by the Agent Orange Act of 1991 to ensure that Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange receive just compensation and care.
“We must ensure veterans exposed to Agent Orange continue to receive the compensation and care they have earned and deserve,” Walz said. “We have a responsibility to these veterans. They completed their mission in Vietnam, now we must complete ours. By passing this extension, we will make certain that when National Academy of Science’s final report is published, the VA is obligated to review it and follow their recommendations. We owe these heroes nothing less,”
This legislation is supported by a number of Veteran’s Service Organizations including the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and the Veterans’ of Foreign Wars (VFW).
“As the Congress continues to work to fashion bi-partisan legislation that is more inclusive of every generation, in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, we need to ensure that we secure an extension for two years of the current mechanism in the ‘Agent Orange Act of 1991’ so that the work can continue. We are grateful for the strong leadership of Congressmen Walz in this overall effort,” said VVA National President John Rowan
Raymond Kelley, national legislative director for the VFW, stated, “It took far too long for Vietnam Veterans to get the care and benefits they needed for conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure. To allow a lapse in VA’s authority to continue granting those benefits would be simply unacceptable. The VFW considers this must-pass legislation and we thank Congressman Walz for bringing it forward.”