June 18, 2015

Following Action by Wyden, Brown and Merkley, VA Finalizes Rule to Extend Benefits to Reservists Exposed to Agent Orange Residue

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. today applauded news that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has released a final decision that qualifies reservists who served on Fairchild UC-123 Provider (C-123) aircraft, that were previously contaminated with Agent Orange, as veterans so they can receive proper healthcare and disability benefits. On June 10, the senators blocked the confirmation of Dr. David J. Shulkin, President Obama’s nominee for Under Secretary for Health of the VA, announcing the hold on his confirmation would remain in place until the VA released a final decision. Oregon Health and Sciences University has been a leader in research recognizing the impact of Agent Orange on C-123 reservists, which include reservists at Rickenbacker Air Force Base in Columbus, OH.

“I’m glad the VA has finally acknowledged that these C-123 veterans, who were exposed to the hazards of Agent Orange, deserve medical care and benefits,” Wyden said. “While this decision is long overdue, I’m encouraged that the agency heeded our calls to change course and ensure that these veterans will receive the care they deserved from the start.”

“All servicemembers exposed to Agent Orange residue deserve the same benefits, whether they flew on missions that used the chemical or they worked on planes still contaminated by it years later,” Brown said. “I thank Secretary McDonald for his action to extend healthcare and disability benefits to C-123 reservists. These veterans have waited too long to receive benefits that they earned.”

“These veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during their service on contaminated aircraft were injured serving our country, and we owe them the best care possible,” Merkley said. “Whether they were active duty or reservists, their sacrifices should be recognized. I’m glad the VA has finally reached the right decision and the affected veterans will receive justice, and I thank Secretary McDonald for getting this done.”

Previously, the VA argued that C-123 reservists did not qualify as “veterans” under the statute used to determine eligibility for VA benefits unless they were injured and incurred a disability or died from that injury during the period of training. In April, Brown, Merkley, and Wyden joined their Senate colleagues in a letter to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald, arguing that the VA’s interpretation is incorrect based on two precedent-setting legal memorandum from the VA’s Office of General Counsel that considered reservists as “veterans” even if the disability from their injury did not manifest until after the period of training. The senators called on McDonald to use the VA’s existing statutory authority to grant benefits to C-123 reservists.

More information about eligibility and benefits can be found here.