Agent Orange claims must not be delayed

The American Legion is calling upon Congress and the Dept. of Veterans Affairs to move quickly in granting benefit claims for three diseases recently declared to have presumptive connections with exposure to Agent Orange defoliant.

For several months, The American Legion has been pressing VA to publish its final regulations for the three new presumptive diseases: ischemic heart disease, Parkinson's disease, and B-cell leukemia.

"Veterans can't collect their earned disability benefits until VA publishes final regulations on these diseases," said Barry Searle, director of the Legion's Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division. "And that's a process that has been dragging through the bureaucratic mire since last October."While veterans across the country are still waiting for those regulations to be published - so they can start to collect earned disability benefits - another delay will be created by provisions of the Congressional Review Act of 1996.

That legislation grants Congress 60 days to review regulations published by federal agencies and possibly disapprove them. If that happens, regulations for the three presumptive conditions will be cancelled and veterans won't be able to claim those new benefits.

"We can certainly understand why Congress wants to be fiscally responsible in this matter," Searle said. "But the scientific studies that support these new claims - that link these three diseases to Agent Orange exposure - are thorough in their research and unequivocal in their findings."

Searle said The American Legion wants Congress and VA to work together quickly in resolving any lingering doubts about the three new presumptive conditions. "Thousands of veterans who suffer from these diseases have waited too long already. The findings are valid. The connections to Agent Orange exposure are real. Let VA and Congress hash it out together, but we urgently recommend that they do it without further delay," he said.