WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) are renewing their bipartisan effort to support veterans who served in Thailand during the Vietnam War-era by allowing them the opportunity to prove toxic exposure in order to qualify for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits.
The VA currently awards service-connected benefits for exposure to toxic chemicals to veterans whose duties placed them on or near the perimeters of Thai military bases from February 28, 1961 to May 7, 1975. This restriction arbitrarily disqualifies veterans who may otherwise be able to prove their exposure, regardless of their assigned duties during their time stationed in Thailand.
“Too many veterans are being left behind because of the VA’s current policies that prohibit them from accessing benefits and health care services they have earned. Veterans who honorably served during the Vietnam War-era in Thailand to this day are paying a high price as a result of having been carelessly hindered by the limitations on the presumption of toxic exposure to Agent Orange, but they aren’t forgotten. We have an obligation to ensure they get the benefits they are due, and I am committed to advancing legislation on their behalf. This bill will eliminate the unreasonable burden on veterans to prove toxic exposure,” Boozman said.
“It’s well past-time for VA to do right by Vietnam-era veterans suffering from exposure to Agent Orange,” said Tester. “The fact is these folks risked their lives for our country when they deployed to Thailand, and we have a duty to ensure they get the benefits and care they’ve earned. I won’t stop fighting until we push this bill across the finish line and address the needs of every Montanan living with the lasting impacts of their exposure.”
Veteran Service Organizations including the Military-Veterans Advocacy (MVA) and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) have long advocated for improvements to health coverage for veterans exposed to dangerous herbicides and support the Boozman-Tester bill.
“The VFW greatly appreciates the support from Senators Boozman and Tester on this important issue. The idea that veterans can only be exposed to Agent Orange if they were on a small portion of a base ignores both science and common sense. The fact is that veterans were exposed on all parts of these bases and now suffer from the effects of Agent Orange. We look forward to the passage of this important legislation that will provide long overdue recognition and care that these veterans deserve,” said Pat Murray, VFW’s National Legislative Director.
Boozman initiated a legislative fix in 2017 to correct this inequity after Mena, Arkansas veteran Bill Rhodes made him aware of the VA’s presumptions for toxic exposure. Rhodes served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was stationed in Thailand during 1973. After developing illnesses linked to herbicide exposure, he turned to the VA for help. His claim was denied, but he’s been working with veterans who face similar circumstances to advocate for this legislation.