New VA Secretary Opposes Agent Orange Benefits for Navy Veterans

Navy ship in ocean

Robert Wilkie, the newly appointed secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, has opposed a bill to extend benefits based on exposure to Agent Orange to Navy veterans who served during the Vietnam War. He based his opinion on high costs and insufficient evidence sailors were exposed to the toxic chemical. A detailed article on the story appears here.

Wilkie urged senators to reject disability and healthcare benefits for 90,000 veterans who served aboard destroyers, aircraft carriers and other vessels during Vietnam. These veterans claim their ships’ water systems exposed them to a dioxin-laden herbicide linked to Parkinson’s disease, heart disease and respiratory cancer.

Cost and Staffing Concerns

Wilkie said the bill would cost the VA $5.5 billion. He added the method in the bill to pay increased benefits raises fees for service members—and veterans who rely on the VA’s home loan program. He also indicated the VA would require 800 additional staff members to implement the change.

No Vote at This Time

In June 2018, the bill passed in the House and has gone to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Currently, the VA is comparing the health of deployed Vietnam veterans—including Navy veterans—to civilians of similar age. Wilkie urged senators to wait for a study before voting. The Senate committee discussed the bill during an August hearing, but has not yet scheduled a vote.

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