WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley announced that he is intensifying pressure on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to extend long-overdue care and benefits to veterans who were exposed to dangerous levels of Agent Orange serving on post-Vietnam C-123 aircraft, placing a hold, along with Senators Sherrod Brown and Ron Wyden, on the nomination of David Shulkin as the VA’s next Undersecretary for Health until the issue is resolved.
“For years now, the VA has been illegitimately denying benefits to servicemembers who were injured by exposure to Agent Orange on C-123s while serving their country,” said Merkley. “The Institute of Medicine’s study released in January completely validated these veterans’ claims. Every day without assistance for these veterans is a day of injustice. That must end.”
Several years ago, this issue was brought to Sen. Merkley’s attention by retired Air Force Major Wes Carter, then a resident of McMinnville, OR, who was among the affected veterans. Carter had taken the lead in investigating on behalf of his fellow veterans and organizing efforts to get them the care and benefits they needed.
Merkley has since led a bipartisan Senate effort to get justice for these veterans, repeatedly urging the VA to reverse previous decisions that had denied veterans’ claims and to institute a presumption of exposure for veterans who served on the affected aircraft, an important step to streamline the process for affected veterans to receive VA care and benefits.
After the Institute of Medicine study released in January affirmed veterans’ claims that they had indeed been exposed to dangerous levels of dioxins on improperly decontaminated aircraft that had carried Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, Merkley again pressed the VA for action.
In April, he and a bipartisan group of Senators urged the VA to act quickly and to ensure that Air Force reservists, who constitute a majority of those who served on the aircraft, are equally eligible for care and benefits.