Senators press VA on Agent Orange
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Seven senators are pushing Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Bob McDonald to grant benefits for Agent Orange exposure to a group of post-Vietnam veterans.  

Sens. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrHillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns GOP senators divided over approach to election security GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers MORE (R-N.C.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySenate set to bypass Iran fight amid growing tensions Congress unlikely to reach deal on Trump border bill before break Chaos within the EPA exposes Americans to toxins like asbestos MORE (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownHouse panel to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency project Democrats talk up tax credits to counter Trump law Facebook's new cryptocurrency raises red flags for critics MORE (D-Ohio), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenAbigail Disney: 'We're creating a super-class' of rich people Is Big Tech biased? The Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations MORE (D-Mass.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — Trump issues order to bring transparency to health care prices | Fight over billions in ObamaCare payments heads to Supreme Court Senate set to bypass Iran fight amid growing tensions Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record MORE (D-Ore.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetRules for first Democratic primary debates announced Inslee unveils plan to fight fossil fuel pollution, ban fracking The Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck MORE (D-Colo.) said that justice "is long overdue" for veterans who crewed C-123 aircraft after the Vietnam War. 
 
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"We write to urge you to utilize the Department of Veterans Affairs’ existing statutory authority to quickly begin providing care and benefits to veterans who were exposed to toxic herbicide residue while serving on Fairchild UC-123 Provider (C-123) aircraft after the era when those aircraft were used to transport Agent Orange in Vietnam," they wrote in the letter Friday, which was released Monday. "Justice for these veterans is long overdue and you have the authority and the ability to finally right this wrong."
 
C-123 veterans have struggled for decades to get the VA to grant benefits for their illnesses, which they believe are tied to Agent Orange exposure. 
 
An Institute of Medicine report earlier this year found that at least some of the post-Vietnam veterans who served on the C-123 aircraft were exposed to the toxin, and were at risk for developing illnesses.  
 
Agent Orange exposure has been tied a range of diseases including cancer.  
 
But the senators said they have heard that "a question has arisen" since the report was released about whether or not C-123 crew members -- typically Air Force reservists and National Guard members -- qualify as veterans under the VA's guidelines for benefits. 
 
"We fundamentally disagree and believe VA’s precedential interpretations of the relevant statute and the policy principle and legal precedent of construing statutes in favor of veterans requires VA to find these reservists eligible for benefits," they said. "We ask that you stand by those interpretations, which we outline in this letter, and which show that no additional statutory authority is necessary for you to immediately begin providing care and benefits to the C-123 veterans." 
 
The senators said the VA was requiring that a C-123 veteran must have injured themselves and that "his or her injury must manifest itself into a disability during the period of training." 
 
"This not only contradicts VA’s previous interpretations of the same statutory language, but also leads to absurd results," they said. "For instance, a reservist who contracted Ebola while flying patients during training but shows no symptoms until they are in civilian life would not satisfy VA’s newfound interpretation."  
 
The senators added that Congress has told the VA to act "in the best interest" of veterans seeking benefits "whenever possible," and they believe the VA currently has the needed statutory authority to grant benefits to the C-123 group.   

"The reserve airmen who served aboard C-123 aircraft are entitled to veteran status and the resulting care and benefits necessary to address their health conditions," they said. "As Secretary, you have the authority to make the decision that would provide these veterans the care and benefits they have earned. We ask that you do so without delay."  

The senators gave McDonald two weeks to respond to their letter.