Fighting for fair veteran’s treatment - The Mena Star: News

Fighting for fair veteran’s treatment

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Posted: Wednesday, January 24, 2018 10:55 pm

Congressman Bruce Westerman  and a bipartisan group of House members have introduced a bill that would give veterans who served in Thailand during the Vietnam War era the opportunity to prove exposure to herbicide agents like Agent Orange and receive Veterans Administration benefits for service-related health problems. Currently, many veterans who served in Thailand are not entitled to such benefits on the basis of Agent Orange exposure.

“When a veteran serves our nation, they earn the respect of a grateful people and should receive treatment and long-term benefits for illness or injuries incurred in the line of duty,” Westerman said. “I have heard from veterans in my district who believe they were exposed to herbicides like Agent Orange while serving in Thailand during the Vietnam era, but have not received VA disability benefits for their illness. This bill gives them the opportunity to make their case and receive the benefits they have earned and deserve. This is the right thing to do for the brave Americans who served our country during the Vietnam conflict.”

This bill covers veterans of the Armed Forces who served in Thailand from February 28, 1961, to May 7, 1975, regardless of assigned duties at the time. Children diagnosed with Spina Bifida whose parents were exposed to Agent Orange during service in the Armed Forces in Thailand during this period would also be able to receive covered benefits.

A Senate version of this bill, S. 2105, was introduced by Senator John Boozman (R-AR) on November 8, 2017. 

 The issue with Herbicides Agents (commonly referred to as Agent Orange) are hazardous chemical contaminants contained in them, including TCDD (dioxins), Cacodylic Acid and Picloram.

Dioxins are an extremely toxic and deadly chemical and most of herbicides used during the Vietnam era, both Tactical (VA Term) and commercial were contaminated with these toxins.

A declassified  1973 U.S. Air Force report admitted herbicides were used in Thailand.  In 2010  the Veterans Administration made the decision to allow for presumed exposure to herbicides in Thailand, however presumptive exposure was restricted to those who served on or near the perimeter of the U.S. Air Force and Royal Thai Air Forces Bases. Those stationed at all other locations  and installations are currently required to present actual proof of exposure to herbicides.

Continued  research and declassification of official government documents were discovered that proved herbicides were used at all U.S. installations in Thailand.  

“Not only do these documents prove their use at all U.S. installations, but prove they were used within the confines and perimeter of all U.S. tenanted installations in Thailand,” explained William Rhodes, of Polk County, who served in Thailand during Vietnam and has been a driving force in pursuing a resolution to the issues he and other veterans face. “This means Herbicides could be and were used within the perimeter of the bases.”

Rhodes feels if the proposed legislation becomes law, it would be a significant boon to veterans affected by the issue.

“One of the more important results of passing this legislation is the reduction of the claim backlog of the appeals process at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals and reduces the administrative cost associated with the appeals,” Rhodes explained. “It will also bring consistency in the decisions made by regional VA offices.”

Currently decisions in regional offices across the nation are inconsistent with one another.

“When one person is approved while another’s claim is deemed unfounded, it creates ill will for the Veterans Administration, because veterans who served at the same job and same location get approved or denied for herbicide exposure depending on the regional office used,” Rhodes said.

Currently, only 14 percent of veterans that apply for benefits for exposure to herbicide in Thailand are approved. The age of the veterans who served in Thailand range between approximately 60 to 85 years of age.  In a sample of a group of veterans exposed to herbicides, approximately one third has diseases associated with Herbicides exposure. 

“The current wait time for completion of the appeals process is five or more years,” Rhodes said. “That’s on top the five-plus years it took for the regional office to deny my original claim.”

Rhodes currently battles three major diseases associated with herbicide exposure.

“This legislation is required for the equitable treatment of veterans,” Rhodes said. “It would be unfair if veterans who served in Thailand during the Vietnam era and were exposed to the toxins in herbicides were not treated equal to the veterans who served in Vietnam.” 

Rhodes said he appreciates the attention the issue is receiving from legislators.

“I’d like to thank Senator Boozman and his staff for their effort in getting this legislation introduced in the Senate,” Rhodes said, noting he hopes both the House and Senate bills are met with approval from Congress.

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