WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced legislation to allow veterans who served in Thailand during the Vietnam War-era the opportunity to prove toxic exposure in order to qualify for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits.
“We made a commitment to our veterans, and must continue that promise to care and provide assistance for those exposed to Agent Orange regardless of where they served in Thailand. Expanding the VA’s policy to provide service-connected benefits is crucial to that pledge. Arbitrarily limiting consideration of a veteran’s claim is misguided, especially considering the VA determined that herbicides were used on fenced-in perimeters of military bases in Thailand. This bill will eliminate the unreasonable burden on veterans to prove toxic exposure,” Boozman said.
“Exposure to Agent Orange has had serious, lasting impacts on Montana’s veterans, and the VA needs to address their needs, no matter where the veteran served,” Tester said. “These folks risked their lives for our country when they were deployed to Thailand and we have a duty to ensure they get the benefits to which they’re entitled.”
The VA currently awards service-connected benefits for exposure to toxic chemicals to veterans whose duties placed them on or near the perimeters of Thai military bases from February 28, 1961 to May 7, 1975. This restriction arbitrarily disqualifies veterans who may otherwise be able to prove their exposure, regardless of their assigned duties during their time stationed in Thailand.
Veteran Service Organizations including Disabled American Veterans (DAV) have long advocated for improvements to health coverage for veterans exposed to dangerous herbicides.
“DAV strongly supports legislation to extend presumptions for Agent Orange and other herbicide exposure to all veterans who served at military installations in Thailand during the Vietnam Era, regardless of the base, duty or military occupational specialty. This legislation would also extend benefits to children of Thailand Vietnam-era veterans who develop spina bifida, which are now granted to children of veterans who served in Vietnam. We applaud Senators Boozman and Tester for introducing this important legislation to provide Vietnam-era veterans who served in Thailand greater equity with respect to presumptive diseases associated with herbicide exposure,” said Joy Ilem, DAV National Legislative Director.
Similar legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives in April.