Take even-handed approach to exposure to Agent Orange

This month’s Veterans Day celebrations around Ohio are a reminder that nothing is more important than serving those who have sacrificed so much for our country.

With the Senate back in session, we need to get to work and show this country that we can work together — and there’s no better place to start than ensuring all the women and men who served this country get the care and benefits they’ve earned.

Right now, in order to receive Veterans Affairs health care and disability benefits for conditions resulting from Agent Orange exposure, Blue Water Navy veterans must meet a higher burden of proof than veterans who served on land or on inland waterways.

They’re forced to navigate additional bureaucracy that can delay or even deny them benefits they’ve earned, simply because of where they served.

That makes no sense.

If you were exposed to a toxic substance while serving our country, we should make sure you receive the benefits you have earned, period. No exceptions.

I talked to Joe Benedict, a Blue Water Navy veteran from Cleveland and the president of Cleveland Honor Flight about this issue last week. Like too many, Benedict has been denied benefits because the VA changed its policy.

That’s why last year I worked with my colleagues on the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017, which would guarantee that all Vietnam veterans exposed to toxic Agent Orange chemicals have equal access to the care and benefits they earned.

I’ve also raised the issue with VA Secretary Robert Wilkie at a meeting in September and at a Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing, pressing him to expand benefits to all Vietnam veterans.

After a long campaign season, we need to show the American people we can work together, Republicans and Democrats, and we should start by putting partisanship aside and finally getting this fixed for the veterans we serve.

I’ve spoken to Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson about this, and I’m hopeful we can get a solution soon.

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