WASHINGTON (KFSM) — Senator John Boozman is urging his colleagues to pass legislation he introduced to eliminate barriers to benefits for veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals while serving in Thailand during the Vietnam War.
Boozman is a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
“I believe veterans have been left behind by the current limitations on the presumption of toxic exposure to Agent Orange,” Boozman said.
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.
The restriction disqualifies veterans who may otherwise be able to prove their exposure, regardless of their assigned duties during their time stationed in Thailand.
Boozman spoke during the committee hearing examining the VA’s decision-making process when determining eligibility for benefits for veterans whose illnesses were caused by exposure to toxic hazards while on active duty.
“It was an Arkansas veteran, Bill Rhodes, who first brought this policy inequity to my attention,” Boozman said.
Rhodes, of Mena, Arkansas, served in Thailand during the Vietnam War. He filed claims with the VA after developing illnesses linked to herbicide exposure. His claims were denied because the location of his service is not covered under the VA’s current presumptions for exposure in Thailand.
Boozman’s legislation would change that.
Rhodes and other veterans who served in Thailand suffering from Agent Orange-related illnesses sent letters in orange envelopes to Members of Congress this month urging passage of Boozman’s legislation that provides them an opportunity to prove toxic exposure in order to qualify for VA benefits.
“For my colleagues on the committee, most of you have probably received letters in bright orange envelopes,” Boozman said showing members a stack of envelopes he’s received.
Boozman pressed VA officials on their policy of limiting benefits for Thailand service and the process for implementing changes. He encouraged them to identify trends of veterans filing claims because of toxic exposure.
During the hearing, VA representatives committed to working with Boozman on this issue and said the Department of Defense has provided updated information about Agent Orange use in new areas.
The VA is looking at that data now to determine if changes should be made.
Boozman’s legislation is cosponsored by Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV).
Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Bruce Westerman (R-AR).