Last year, research by the Institute of Medicine and the Veterans Affairs Department found that there was a strong possibility of a link “between exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange and other herbicides used during the Vietnam War and an increased chance of developing serious heart problems and Parkinson’s disease.”
Then, in October, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki announced that he would be adding Ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, and B cell leukemias to the list of Agent Orange-related diseases, meaning that veterans suffering from those conditions would be eligible for subsidized treatment from the Veterans Administration. The new rules expanded the list of beneficiaries by 86,000 and was estimated to cost $40.2 billion over ten years.
Now, the “leading Republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), says he “has concerns” about the new funding for veterans compensation, worrying that the “defined population” receiving the compensation may not be the “appropriate one.” He also complained that the benefits are being dispensed under an “overly broad” definition and that we may have to “at some point…look at the definition of exposure”:
The leading Republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee said Monday that he also has concerns about a proposal that would spend billions of dollars on disability compensation for Vietnam veterans who get heart disease. North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr added his voice to leading Democrats on the committee who have reservations about the spending and plan to discuss the issue at a Capitol Hill hearing this week. Because of concerns about the defoliant Agent Orange, the Department of Veterans Affairs wants to allow tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans to get compensation for heart disease, a common ailment for older adults.
Burr said he shares some of the same concerns raised by Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, a Vietnam combat veteran. “We’d like to make sure that, one, the science has a causal link, and two, that the defined population is an appropriate one,” Burr said in an interview, his first public comments on the topic. [...]
Veterans advocates have said that it would be unreasonable for veterans to have to prove on a case-by-case basis that their illness came from Agent Orange. Burr said the catchall phrasing that allows a veteran to get benefits for serving just one day in Vietnam may be overly broad. “At some point we will have to look at the definition of exposure,” he said.
While a handful of “members of Congress have balked at the price” of extending veterans compensation to ex-servicemembers suffering from the three diseases, it should be noted that the two most prominent critics of the extension — Burr and Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) — have both expressed a willingness to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Doing so would cost nearly 17 times as much as caring for veterans suffering as a result of their government’s decision to send them into battle.