Wyden, Brown and Merkley Block Veterans Affairs Nominee Confirmation Until Adminstration Responds to Demands for Benefits for C-123 Reservists Exposed to Agent Orange
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, blocked the confirmation of David J. Shulkin, President Obama’s nominee for Under Secretary for Health of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The senators’ hold on his confirmation will remain in place until the VA releases a final decision on qualifying 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. Veterans who served on C-123 aircraft include reservists at Rickenbacker Air Force Base in Columbus and the Oregon Health and Sciences University has been a leader in research recognizing the impact of Agent Orange on C-123 reservists.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs has not responded to the request I, along with six of my Senate colleagues, sent in April to urge the department to use its authority to provide care and benefits to veterans who were exposed to toxic residue from Agent Orange,” Wyden said. “Until the VA makes it clear that it is making this reasonable request a priority, I am publicly holding up the nomination for Undersecretary for Health of the Department of Veterans Affairs. My sincere hope is the VA will act quickly in responding to this request and resolve this issue. C-123 veterans should have been receiving these benefits all along, and I will continue to hold the VA accountable until it provides them.”
“Reservists exposed to Agent Orange residue while working on a C-123 should receive the same benefits as veterans who were exposed during combat,” Brown said. These veterans have waited too long to receive the healthcare and disability benefits they deserve. Dr. Shulkin is extremely qualified, but we can’t move forward to confirm an Undersecretary for Health at the VA until this pressing veterans’ health issue is addressed.”
“For years now, the VA has been illegitimately denying benefits to service members who were injured by exposure to Agent Orange on C-123s while serving their country,” Merkley said. “An Institute of Medicine study published in January completely validated these veterans’ claims. Every day without assistance for these veterans is a day of injustice. That must end.”
Currently, the VA argues that C-123 reservists do 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, Wyden, Brown, and Merkley 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.
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