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WASHINGTON– U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, met with Arkansas veteran Bill Rhodes who inspired legislation to ensure former servicemembers who served in Thailand during the Vietnam War-era get the benefits they’ve earned.

Rhodes was stationed in Thailand during 1973. After developing illnesses linked to herbicide exposure, the former U.S. Marine turned to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for help with his health care. His claim was initially denied and he’s been working with lawmakers to correct this problem and ensure other veterans are able to get the benefits they are owed. 

“Once I gathered documentation, I realized it was no longer about me and it was a larger problem that needed legislation to be corrected. I appreciate Senator Boozman’s leadership to break down the barriers that exist for veterans like me who served in Thailand and were exposed to Agent Orange,” said Rhodes, a Mena, Arkansas veteran and director of veterans of Southeast Asia for Military Veterans Advocacy. 

Boozman has been a champion of legislation to allow veterans the ability to prove toxic exposure in order to qualify for VA benefits in light of the Department’s current policy to only award service-connected benefits for exposure to toxic chemicals to veterans whose duties placed them on or near the perimeters of Thai military bases until May 7, 1975. This restrictive and arbitrary policy disqualifies former servicemembers who were exposed to Agent Orange while assigned to other areas on the base. Boozman’s bill removes these barriers and extends the eligibility period to June 30, 1976 in order to cover all veterans who served in Thailand during the Vietnam War-era. 

“Bill Rhodes has done a great job advancing this cause and educating others about the need for this legislation. Having input from Arkansas veterans is crucial to developing policies that meet their needs. Bill has said this legislation gives him some hope, and I’m optimistic we can get this across the finish line to ensure veterans get the care they need,” Boozman said

In May, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee advanced Boozman’s legislation as a provision in the Comprehensive and Overdue Support for Troops (COST) of War Act of 2021, legislation that expands access to VA health care and benefits to veterans living with the effects of toxic exposure. 

In recognition of U.S. Senator John Boozman’s advocacy for veterans, Rhodes presented Boozman with a token of appreciation from Military Veterans Advocacy that was made in Mena. The black walnut was the gift of a local pastor and a local business created the pen. 

(Pictured: Mena, Arkansas veteran Bill Rhodes presented U.S. Senator John Boozman with a pen made with black walnut from the region during a visit to Washington, D.C. on August 5.)