Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding Trump Administration Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s efforts to deny comprehensive health coverage to veterans who have suffered from Agent Orange because of their service in the Vietnam War. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:
Finally, about our veterans and Agent Orange. Yesterday, our nation observed Veterans Day, a chance for all of us to say thank you to the millions of brave Americans who served our country. It’s a day to not only celebrate their achievements and express a deep and abiding gratitude for their service, but also to recognize that for many veterans, the sacrifices come as a result of military service and those sacrifices are not yet over.
Today I want to shed light on one particular issue: there are now hundreds of thousands of veterans who suffer from diseases linked to Agent Orange, a chemical used by our military during the Vietnam War. Exposure to Agent Orange can lead to a host of complications, diabetes, leukemia, and more. And the VA long provided benefits for veterans suffering from these conditions, like health care and compensation to defer the hardship they still face years after they were on the battlefield, but are suffering wounds gotten on the battlefield back then, they’re suffering them now.
In response to more recent studies, VA Secretary Shulkin decided in 2017 to add bladder cancer, hypertension, Parkinson’s-like symptoms and hypothyroidism to the list of Agent-Orange-related conditions that are eligible for benefits. That would have improve the lives of 83,000 vets.
Shockingly, once again, this cruel administration—they don’t even care about our veterans—it was reported that OMB Director and White House Chief Mulvaney has decided to block benefits for these new conditions because he’s worried about the cost. It’s disgraceful. Let me repeat—Mulvaney, despite the recommendation of President Trump’s VA secretary and the recommendation of the National Academy of Medicine, has decided to block health benefits to sick veterans.
Many of these veterans are retired, many don’t have a steady income – these benefits could make the difference between life and death. But Mick Mulvaney – the same Mick Mulvaney who thought $1.5 trillion was an acceptable cost to give billionaires and corporations a giant tax cut creating a huge deficit– now he believes that the cost of helping 83,000 sick veterans is just too high. This is incomprehensibly cruel. When are the American people going to wake up and see what the Trump Administration is doing? Tax breaks for billionaires. Blocking benefits for veterans who are suffering from results of Agent Orange exposure?
My home state of New York has 240,000 veterans from the Vietnam-era, many of them were exposed to Agent Orange without realizing it. Just yesterday, the Buffalo News profiled the life of Vietnam veteran Dick Gabel, who was drafted into the army at age 19. In approximately two years of service, he was shot in the leg, recovered, sent back to war, losing many of his closest friends along the way. For decades, when he came home, Dick worked with kids in his hometown to make Veterans Day an annual highlight, and bring together hundreds of veterans to volunteer at local schools. Just last year, he was diagnosed with leukemia, possibly because of his exposure to Agent Orange.
There are likely thousands, thousands, of veterans in New York like Dick, who are fighting illnesses directly linked to Agent Orange and their military service in Vietnam—but because they got the wrong disease, the Trump Administration is blocking their health benefits.
So today, a day after millions of Americans, myself included, marched in parades across our country to honor of our veterans, I demand, demand, that Chief of Staff Mulvaney reverse this cruel and unfair decision immediately.