Weekly Democratic Address
November 22, 2019
Hi, this is Senator Jon Tester from Montana.
And I want to talk about something really important today, that being our veterans.
Our nation’s veterans have made many sacrifices for the freedoms that we enjoy.
And in return for their service, we have an obligation to ensure that these men and women receive the quality benefits that they’ve earned.
But the Trump Administration – while claiming to support our veterans, has turned their backs on them, blocking benefits for those who suffered from illnesses related to the exposure to Agent Orange.
Agent Orange is a toxic defoliant that was used during the Vietnam War. And it was used in such great volumes that if you served in Vietnam, you were exposed to it.
As a result of these exposures, Vietnam-era veterans are now experiencing diseases and debilitating health conditions.
But the Trump Administration doesn’t see it that way. Instead of doing right by our veterans, they are actively denying these veterans – victims of their service – eligibility for the benefits and care that they desperately need.
The White House is refusing to expand the list of presumptive health conditions that have been scientifically shown to be connected with the use of Agent Orange to include four conditions – Parkinsonism, bladder cancer, hypertension, and hypothyroidism. The Trump Administration doesn’t seem to think that exposure to these toxic chemicals in Vietnam is a cost of war.
Well, guess what? They’re wrong. It is a cost of war. And it wasn’t until a veteran filed a Freedom of Information Act request that we finally figured out what the hold-up was: the hold-up was the Trump Administration. They didn’t want to pay for it.
According to these revealed documents, President Trump’s first VA Secretary – Dr. David Shulkin – recommended way back in the fall of 2017 that these conditions associated with Agent Orange be added. The VA urged the White House to expand eligibility, so these veterans could get the benefits they’ve earned for conditions like bladder cancer, Parkinson’s-like symptoms and hypothyroidism.
But Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and the White House objected. They didn’t want to spend the money. They said they wanted more studies – studies that would effectively run out the clock as more and more of these veterans suffer and die from their diseases caused by Agent Orange.
Since then, the National Academies of Medicine has found even greater evidence that Agent Orange exposure results in conditions like hypertension.
Mick Mulvaney and the White House need to stop ignoring the overwhelming scientific evidence put forth by scientists, medical experts, and veterans, and commit to taking care of the 83,000 veterans who are suffering and dying from health conditions associated with this exposure.
Yet the White House refuses to recognize the cost of war and continues to ignore Vietnam veterans in their 60s, in their 70s, in their 80s – veterans who have already waited decades for the benefits that they desperately need.
And this isn’t the only problem. Veterans who served off the shores of Vietnam, who were also exposed to Agent Orange, well, they are out of luck, too.
Congress has done their job. But this Administration has put a hold on all the benefits that go to the veterans who served in Vietnam offshore – that drank water contaminated by Agent Orange, that took baths in it, those who were exposed to it.
Yet the Trump White House once again refused to recognize that these Blue Water Navy veterans needed help.
If the White House claims to be an advocate for veterans, it’s time to show it.
No more excuses.
Veterans are dying and their families are not getting the benefits that they have earned.
Let’s do right by these veterans and their families. End the wait for those who have already sacrificed greatly.