Senator Tester Speaks to American Legion about Agent Orange
In a recent interview with the American Legion, Montana senior Senator Jon Tester was asked about a bill he introduced to add bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinson's to the 14 illnesses already covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs for their links to the toxic herbicide, Agent Orange.
“For the folks who served in Vietnam, the folks who are getting up there in years, they know better than me, and certainly better than anybody who didn't serve Vietnam that these sicknesses are real,” said Tester. “Because of their service in Vietnam, they need to be covered because folks who didn't serve in Vietnam don't get those diseases as high a rate and we have medical studies that bore that out.”
Tester had hoped that a bill specifying those ailments wouldn’t be necessary, but that was not the case.
“The bottom line is, we had a bill, but I was really hoping the VA would just do it because it's the right thing to do,” he said. “For whatever reasons, and I don't want to speculate, it chose not to do it and so the FDA came along. We wanted to get all four of them put in, we were able to negotiate three of the four and the reason we didn't get hypertension is because the VA is waiting for two more studies and (VA) Secretary Wilkie is assured me that by the end of the year, they're going to make a decision.”
Tester was asked why he thought the VA has failed to act on these diseases until now.
“I think its money,” he said. “I will tell you that when we send folks off to war, money is never a problem. Doesn't matter if it's money we've gotten the Treasury or borrowed money. Nobody ever talks about money. When you bring these folks back from war, money better not be an excuse because it wasn't an excuse when you send them over. If you can afford to send them over you’d damn well better be able to afford to take care of them.”
Tester is the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.