This week, Representative Josh Harder (CA-10) led a bipartisan letter alongside 111 of his colleagues asking Congressional negotiators to include his legislation benefitting Vietnam Veterans in the final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA – also known as the “Defense Bill”). Many Vietnam Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and developed particular conditions are currently unable to get certain benefits and care from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA). Legislation based on Rep. Harder’s bill was included in the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but to become law it must be included in the final negotiated version.
“This is the last chance that members of both parties have to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to veterans,” said Rep. Harder. “There’s a lot of happy talk when it comes to helping vets – but unless we actually provide the support these folks need, the words are empty.”
Vietnam Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and have certain medical conditions get access to benefits and support through the VA. However, veterans with bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinson’s-like symptoms are not included – despite comprehensive medical evidence linking these conditions to Agent Orange exposure.
Earlier this year, Rep. Harder introduced The Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act, which would ensure Vietnam Veterans with those three conditions get access to the benefits through the VA. The bill passed as an amendment to the Senate version of the annual must-pass defense bill. To become law, the amendment must now be included in the final version of the legislation.
In August, Rep. Harder and the veterans organizations held a virtual press event to announce the kick off of the campaign. During the event, the veterans organizations announced their own complementary effort to encourage veterans around the country to write their elected officials asking them to include this legislation in that bill.
The effort is supported by the largest veterans organizations in the country, including The American Legion, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), Veterans of Foreign Wars of the US (VFW), Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Fleet Reserve Association (FRA), TREA: The Enlisted Association, United States Army Warrant Officers Association, VetsFirst, United Spinal Association, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Association of the United States Navy, Air Force Sergeants Association, Gold Star Wives of America, Inc., Military Veterans Advocacy, Inc., The Military Order of the Purple Heart, Michael J. Fox Foundation, Lewy Body Dementia Association, Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network (BCAN).
“This is a top priority for many of our veterans and their families. Over thirty veterans’ advocacy organizations have sent a letter to House and Senate leadership insisting that this amendment be included in the NDAA bill and the Senate amendment passed with overwhelming support on a vote of 94-6,” the letter stated. “Our Vietnam veterans should not have to wait any longer for the recognition they deserve and the benefits they are owed. Ensuring this bipartisan and bicameral amendment remains in the final NDAA bill will mean that thousands of veterans will finally get the support they need due to their sacrifice and service.”