Congressman Joe Cunningham on Wednesday helped introduce the Keeping Our Promises Act, bipartisan legislation led by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) that would aid veterans suffering from long-term illness as a result of Agent Orange exposure.
The bill would add to the VA’s list of covered illnesses nine medical conditions, which are already recognized by the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) as having evidence of being linked to exposure to Agent Orange. U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.), Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), Brendan Boyle (D-Penn.), Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Ann Kuster (D-N.H.) also joined the bill as cosponsors.
“Lowcountry veterans who bravely served their country during Vietnam are now suffering debilitating and long-term illnesses because of their exposure to Agent Orange under the government’s watch,” Rep. Joe Cunningham said. “This bipartisan legislation would make sure the men and women exposed to these harmful chemicals receive the care, services, and benefits they are owed. I am proud to work with my colleagues across the aisle to advance this important legislation and ensure our veterans receive the treatment they deserve.”
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.
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.