- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

Is there a complete list of all the Navy units that may have been exposed to Agent Orange? — Steve W., USN Ret.

Dear Steve,

I suggest that you go VA Watchdog’s Web site (http://www.vawatchdog.org/10/nf10/nfjan10/nf012210-3.htm) for the latest information.

Shaft Notes

The Sarge joins the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. in taking strong issue with a recent comment made by the Republican co-chairman of a presidential commission on fiscal responsibility and reform, who suggested that benefits provided to disabled military veterans are partly responsible for the nation’s financial crisis:

Former three-term U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming said “The irony [is] that the veterans who saved this country are now, in a way, not helping us to save the country in this fiscal mess.”

“The only polite way to respond is to call his comment totally irresponsible and potentially detrimental to the great programs and services our nation now provides to her disabled veterans,” said Richard L. Eubank, the new national commander of the 2.1 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. and its Auxiliaries.

“The VFW’s founding fathers returned home from the Spanish American War and Philippine Insurrection to a government that bore little responsibility to care for their wounds or their rehabilitation,” explained Eubank, a retired Marine and Vietnam veteran from Eugene, Ore. “Since 1899, the VFW along with our sister organizations who followed later have been petitioning our government to properly care for those who not only saved our country, but who allowed all others to flourish and build their tomorrows unburdened by the patriotic responsibilities of national defense and personal sacrifice,” he said.

“Regardless of his reasoning, Mr. Simpson is totally out-of-line to lay any part of the nation’s economic woes on disabled veterans,” said Eubank. “The VFW believes in fiscal responsibility, but veterans’ programs are sacrosanct, and the day our government cannot afford to take care of veterans is the day our government should quit creating them.”

Rep. John Hall, Chairman of the House Veteran’s Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, also weighed in on the issue:

“This week Mr. Simpson blamed disabled Veterans for adding to our nation’s budget deficit. His comments came just days after a Veterans Administration announcement that it is expanding eligibility for disability compensation to veterans suffering from three diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange, correcting a long running injustice.

“This is a change I have long advocated for and strongly applaud. I recognize the need to bring deficit spending under control but cutting funding for those that have helped to build and protect this nation and its ideals is unacceptable.

“If he thinks the way to balance the budget is to cut health care benefits for disabled veterans whose diseases were caused by exposure to toxic chemical during service they were drafted into, then I call for President Obama to replace Mr. Simpson with someone better capable to serve him and the nation.”

Veterans exposed to herbicides while serving in Vietnam and other areas will now have an easier path to accessing quality health care and qualifing for disability compensation:

“Last October, based on the requirements of the Agent Orange Act of 1991 and the Institute of Medicine’s 2008 Update on Agent Orange, I determined that the evidence provided was sufficient to award presumptions of service connection for these three additional diseases,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “It was the right decision, and the President and I are proud to finally provide this group of Veterans the care and benefits they have long deserved.”

The final regulation follows Shinseki’s determination to expand the list of conditions for which service connection for Vietnam Veterans is presumed. VA is adding Parkinson’s disease and ischemic heart disease and expanding chronic lymphocytic leukemia to include all chronic B cell leukemias, such as hairy cell leukemia.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, DC 20035-5900; fax: 301/622-3330; call: 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.