‘An Absolute Disgrace’

Schumer Calls On Agencies To Expand Benefits To Veterans

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer greets John Miga of American Legion Post 62 and a Vietnam Veteran as he arrives in Memorial Park in Dunkirk. P-J photo

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, during a stop in Dunkirk on Thursday morning, called on two federal agencies to work to expand health-care benefits to the more than 240,000 New Yorkers who served in the Vietnam War.

Standing at Memorial Park in Dunkirk with Vietnam-era veterans as well as those from other wars, Schumer called on the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Veterans Affairs, to stop playing games, end the years-long dispute, and add new conditions to the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list.

“It’s an absolute disgrace to have our government say that you’re not getting the benefits you’re entitled to caused by your brave service overseas,” he said, noting 32,000 Western New Yorkers served in the war in the 1960s and ’70s.

Schumer announced a letter to budget office and the VA demanding a detailed explanation as to why the agencies continue to block billions in health care coverage and benefits for thousands of Vietnam veterans.

A 2016 National Academies report found suggestive evidence that bladder cancer and hypothyroidism were associated with veterans’ service, as well as clarified that veterans with “Parkinson-like symptoms” should be considered eligible under the presumption that Parkinson’s disease and the veterans’ service are connected.

Following this report, former VA Secretary David Shulkin announced he would be adding the three conditions to the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list in the near future-which would allow Vietnam War-era personnel stricken with these illnesses to receive health care benefits, but that announcement never came.

“The odds are very high that hundreds (who served in Vietnam) have one of these illnesses,” Schumer said. “So we are fighting for them. … Put these four illnesses on the presumptive list … and do it fast.”

Diagnoses of hypertension among Vietnam War-era veterans have also been linked to Agent Orange exposure. Even though Schumer secured a provision in the recently passed budget deal requiring OMB and the VA to issue a detailed report to Congress on the delay in adding these conditions to the presumptive conditions list, the report was woefully insufficient and both agencies have failed to properly explain why they are denying these veterans.

“The longer (the agencies) wait, fewer veterans will be left,” Schumer said. “So we’ve got to do it right away.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)