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Westerman Introduces Bill Encouraged by Local Man

Congressman Bruce Westerman (AR) and a bipartisan group of House members introduced a bill to modify the presumption of service connection for veterans exposed to herbicides while serving in Thailand on Thursday, January 18, after a lifetime resident of Mena, Bill Rhodes, has actively advocated for a change in legislation for several months. The bill would give veterans who served in Thailand during the Vietnam War era the opportunity to prove exposure to herbicide agents like Agent Orange and receive Veterans Administration benefits for service-related health problems. Currently, many veterans who served in Thailand are not entitled to such benefits on the basis of Agent Orange exposure.

“When a veteran serves our nation, they earn the respect of a grateful people and should receive treatment and long-term benefits for illness or injuries incurred in the line of duty,” Westerman said. “I have heard from veterans in my district who believe they were exposed to herbicides like Agent Orange while serving in Thailand during the Vietnam era, but have not received VA disability benefits for their illness. This bill gives them the opportunity to make their case and receive the benefits they have earned and deserve. This is the right thing to do for the brave Americans who served our country during the Vietnam conflict.”

“The valorous Americans who served our country deserve the health benefits that they were promised and have more than earned,” said co-sponsor Jimmy Panetta (CA). “I am proud to work on this bipartisan and bicameral legislation that would help ensure that veterans exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Thailand are able to receive the health benefits that they need and deserve. This bill will help fulfill the commitment that our country made to those men and women who served.”

“Thousands of Mainers and millions of Americans served and sacrificed for our Nation during the Vietnam War,” co-sponsor Bruce Poliquin (ME) said. “In addition to battling a gruesome war, many were also exposed to chemicals that have resulted in long term illnesses, cancers, and birth defects for their children. It is long overdue to give those who are suffering from these ailments—and their children–the support and compensation they deserve. This is an important and commonsense bill for our Veterans that extends the same benefits that we give those that were exposed to these dangerous chemicals in Vietnam and Korea, to their fellow Veterans that served in Thailand and exposed to the same chemicals.  As a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I am honored to join my colleagues in introducing this important and long overdue piece of legislation.”

“Our veterans deserve far better treatment than what they currently receive, and this bill is a step towards closing that gap,” co-sponsor Jacky Rosen (NV) said. “This bill will help Vietnam-era veterans who were based in Thailand receive special consideration in their treatments after being exposed to herbicides in those regions. This bipartisan bill represents our nation’s commitment to improving veterans’ health coverage and I am proud to support this measure. ”

“If a veteran at any time during their service was exposed to herbicide agents and is now suffering because of that exposure, they deserve VA benefits,” said co-sponsor Scott Tipton (CO-03). “Unfortunately, current law based on arbitrary specifications dictates that veterans serving at military bases in Thailand during the Vietnam War do not qualify for these benefits, despite a report proving that dangerous herbicides were in fact used in that area. Our nation’s veterans deserve better. I am glad to support legislation that will allow them the opportunity to prove their exposure, so that they can finally receive the benefits owed to them.”

This bill covers veterans of the Armed Forces who served in Thailand from February 28, 1961, to May 7, 1975, regardless of assigned duties at the time. Children diagnosed with Spina Bifida whose parents were exposed to Agent Orange during service in the Armed Forces in Thailand during this period would also be able to receive covered benefits.

In addition to Reps. Westerman, Panetta, Poliquin, Rosen, and Tipton, the bill is also co-sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Murphy (FL).

A Senate version of this bill, S. 2105, was introduced by Senator John Boozman (R-AR) on November 8, 2017. Co-sponsors include Democratic Senators Joe Donnelly (IN) Robert Menendez (NJ), Jeff Merkley (OR), Chris Van Hollen (MD), Elizabeth Warren (MA), and Republican Senator Dean Heller (NV).

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