Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) introduced the Keeping Our Promises Act, a bill that would add nine medical conditions recognized by the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) as having evidence of exposure to certain herbicides used by the Armed Forces during the Vietnam War. Representatives Bruce Westerman (AR-04), Brendan F. Boyle (PA-02), Elise Stefanik (NY-21), Scott Tipton (CO-03), Annie Kuster (NH-02), Mike Thompson (CA-05), and Joe Cunningham (SC-01).
During the Vietnam War, U.S. Air Force records show that at least 6,542 spraying missions took place, and by 1971, the U.S. had sprayed 12 percent of the total area of South Vietnam with the defoliating chemicals, at an average concentration of 13 times the recommended rate for domestic use.
“The most solemn obligation of Congress is to ensure that our nation’s veterans have the care and resources they need,” said Fitzpatrick. “American heroes affected by Agent Orange deserve the peace of mind knowing that the federal government recognizes the existing link between their exposure and illness. I am proud to support this bipartisan legislation to ensure that those who defended our freedom receive the health care which they have earned.”
“I’ve heard from veterans across my district who are suffering from long-term illnesses as a result of Agent Orange exposure but can’t receive VA benefits for their ailments,” said Westerman. “I believe we owe these men and women who served our country much-needed assistance for medical bills and other essentials. “This legislation is a bipartisan solution to an imminent need, and I’m grateful for my colleagues on both sides of the aisle who have put party differences aside to assist veterans.”
“This long-awaited administrative step would help tens of thousands of veterans get access to the care they need and deserve,” said Boyle. We made a promise to our veterans: they served this country, and in return, we’d always have their backs. “This bipartisan legislation makes good on that promise by ensuring all service members exposed to these herbicides and chemicals as a part of their military service get the health care they need. Not one more service member should be forced to suffer in this way without the best care our federal government has to offer.”
Military personnel involved with the storage and transportation suffered severe rates of exposure to this chemical. Despite constant reassurance that it was safe and harmless to handle during the war, veterans began reporting symptoms of lymphoma, leukemia, respiratory cancer, prostate cancer, bladder cancer, digestive disorders and other diseases.
The nine new classifications included in the Keeping Our Promises Act are based on NAM’s biennial Veterans and Agent Orange (VAO) Committee’s evaluation of epidemiologic literature and reflect the committee members’ judgement of the relative certainty of the association between the illness and exposure to the herbicides used in Vietnam.
Last Congress, Fitzpatrick cosponsored a bill that would allow veterans who served in Thailand to apply for benefits based on exposure to Agent Orange.