23 June 2010

VA, Congress Need to Grant New Agent Orange Claims Without Delay

/PRNewswire/ -- The American Legion is calling upon Congress and the Dept. of Veterans Affairs to move quickly in granting benefit claims for three diseases recently declared to have presumptive connections with exposure to Agent Orange defoliant.

For several months, The American Legion has been pressing VA to publish its final regulations for the three new presumptive diseases: ischemic heart disease, Parkinson's disease, and B-cell leukemia.

"Veterans can't collect their earned disability benefits until VA publishes final regulations on these diseases," said Barry Searle, director of the Legion's veterans affairs and rehabilitation division. "And that's a process that has been dragging through the bureaucratic mire since last October."

While veterans across the country are still waiting for those regulations to be published - so they can start to collect earned disability benefits - Congress is on the verge of creating another delay.

The House of Representatives may soon consider a Senate-approved amendment that would add a 60-day period of limited spending on the new benefits while Congress reviews the underlying scientific data that led VA to link the three diseases to herbicide exposure.

VA estimates it will spend more than $42 billion over the next decade on Agent Orange claims stemming from the new regulations.

"We can certainly understand why Congress wants to be fiscally responsible in this matter," Searle said. "But the scientific studies that support these new claims - that link these three diseases to Agent Orange exposure - are thorough in their research and unequivocal in their findings."

Searle said The American Legion wants Congress and VA to work together quickly in resolving any lingering doubts about the three new presumptive conditions.

"Thousands of veterans who suffer from these diseases have waited too long already. The findings are valid. The connections to Agent Orange exposure are real. Let VA and Congress hash it out together, but we urgently recommend that they do it without further delay," Searle said.

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