Veterans groups praised the Department of Veterans Affairs last year when officials announced they would add three new diseases to the list of "presumptive illnesses" connected to the use of the Vietnam-era defoliant Agent Orange. But senators concerned about the cost and precedent of such a change put a 60-day hold on money related to the change, and have asked the VA for more information on why Agent Orange claims should be expanded.
On Tuesday, in a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said he's happy to defend the decision. "It was the right decision, and the President and I are proud to finally provide this group of Veterans the care and benefits they have long deserved."
The rules regarding the new recognized illnesses -- Parkinson’s Disease, Hairy Cell and other types of chronic, b-cell leukemia, and Ischemic Heart Disease — could open up veterans benefits to 250,000 more Vietnam-era veterans and cost the VA another $13.4 billion over the next 18 months.
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., has publicly questioned whether scientific research supports including the three new diseases with other Agent Orange exposure conditions, and if the VA is unnecessarily committing billions in compensation payments for problems that are often simply the result of aging.
But Shinseki said he's "happy" to explain the rationale behind the move, and confident lawmakers will support the change. The hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee is set for Sept. 23.