Utah Vietnam veterans pushing for toxic chemical legislation

Tuesday , September 29, 2015 - 12:01 PM1 comment

OGDEN — A Utah veterans group says the Department of Veterans Affairs needs to do more for not just military members who have been exposed to toxic chemicals, but for their families too.

The Utah Vietnam Veterans of America organization is urging veterans across the state to contact their senators and congressmen to ask them to cosponsor the Toxic Exposure Research Act of 2015.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Michigan, would require that VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald select a single VA medical facility to serve as the national center for the research and treatment of health conditions commonly associated with exposure to toxic substances used during military conflicts.

The bill also specifies the inclusion of “the biological children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren of individuals exposed to toxic substances while serving as members of the Armed Forces.” 

Agent Orange exposure tied to the Vietnam conflict is a driving force behind the bill, but the VVA says the legislation will help multiple generations of veterans and their families.

• RELATED: Benefits expanded for Air Force vets of Agent Orange

“Herbicides used in Vietnam, in particular Agent Orange, have been associated with the development of certain disabling medical conditions, including a variety of cancers and other long-term health effects,” said a briefing summary of the bill released by the VVA. “(But) the veterans of more recent wars also report health issues in their children. For this reason, VVA is calling for more research on the generational legacy of toxic exposures for all who have been exposed while serving in the armed forces.”

The VA recognizes numerous birth defects that are associated with a woman’s service in Vietnam, but says the diseases have not been definitively tied to herbicides such as Agent Orange. 

The VVA says anecdotal evidence suggests there is a tie, which is why a bigger push for research is needed. 

“Based on the thousands of anecdotal accounts we have recorded from veterans and their families, we strongly suspect that the children, grandchildren, and in some cases, great grandchildren, are manifesting a range of health issues suspected to be as a result of a parent’s exposure to toxins while serving in the armed forces,” said the briefing summary.

The legislation would also require that an advisory board be established to oversee the center and provide guidance and recommendations to the VA. It also calls for the Department of Defense to declassify documents regarding any known incident where at least 100 members of the U.S. military were exposed to a toxic substance that involved at least one associated disability. 

Since the bill was introduced in April, nearly 100 lawmakers have signed on as cosponsors. According to Congress.gov, Republican Rep. Rob Bishop is the only Utah lawmaker to have signed on.

“This is an important issue,” said Utah VVA president Dennis Howland. “We want people to research this and then contact their elected officials so we can get it done.”

A congressional hearing on the bill is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 29.

For help contacting their lawmakers, veterans can visit the VVA’s Legislative Action Center at www.vva.org.

You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at mishaw@standard.net or at 801-625-4233. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook.

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