In the Senate on Thursday, VA officials defended the decision from last October to add Parkinson’s disease, hairy cell leukemia, and ischemic heart disease to the list of presumptive illnesses linked to Agent Orange for Vietnam Veterans. The measure means that 250,000 Veterans could be due compensation, the payouts of which could cost more than $13 billion over the next 18 months.
Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Daniel Akaka, D-HI, cautioned that the hearing was not about evaluating the costs of care for Veterans, but making sure that the approval process for approving service-connected presumptive illnesses is sound. The service-connected presumptive illness issue is likely to become more controversial as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans return home after burn-pit exposure, and Senator Akaka has said that “we must ensure the processes in place give the VA appropriate authority to react in the future.”
Senator Jim Webb, D-VA, noted that there are still questions concerning whether or not these illnesses may by more closely related to aging than to Agent Orange exposure, but VA Secretary Eric Shinseki defended the move by citing nine different studies linking the three conditions to Agent Orange exposure.
“These decisions were not made lightly,” said Secretary Shinseki, “Veterans and their families have waited decades while science has revealed new details about Agent Orange exposure.”
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