Submitted by Patrick Cassidy
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) and the House of Representatives voted to pass H.R. 7105, the Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act. The bipartisan bill includes a provision that will move the ball forward and contribute to an effort Rep. Courtney has worked for years to advance through the Agent Orange Fairness Act (H.R. 566) by mandating a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on repealing the onerous manifestation requirements from certain diseases which the VA has linked to Agent Orange exposure. Under current law, veterans must demonstrate that the symptoms of certain diseases developed within just a year of exposure in order to receive the care and compensation they deserve.
Rep. Courtney’s bill would eliminate these unfair requirements and grant presumptive benefits to all servicemembers who came into contact with this herbicide, and H.R. 7105 will help to support that effort through a mandated GAO report. H.R. 7105 passed the House today by voice vote, and will now be sent to the President’s desk for signature.
“Veterans are required to show that these illnesses manifested themselves within one year of exposure in order to get VA help,” said Courtney, ahead of today’s vote. “Only one problem—fifty years ago, when service members were handling this poison, the U.S. government never disclosed how dangerous it was. When it’s toxicity was finally recognized decades later, the one-year clock to prove manifestation had long expired. It is the ultimate Catch-22.
“Section 2011 would not exist but for the tireless work of Vietnam vet Gerry Wright of Andover, Connecticut who has crisscrossed America, rounding up support for abolishing this rule. No lobbyists, no super PACs, just old-fashioned citizen involvement. Congratulations Gerry—you are a true patriot. I urge support of this bill.”
Rep. Courtney originally introduced the Agent Orange Exposure Fairness Act in July 2018 after working with Gerry Wright, a Vietnam veteran from Andover, Connecticut, who has travelled across the country to raise awareness on this issue and has gathered thousands of signatures in support of making changes to these requirements. Most recently, Courtney re-introduced the bill on January 15th, 2019—the first bill he introduced to the 116th Congress.
The Agent Orange Exposure Fairness Act has gained more bipartisan co-sponsors through each Congress, and has gained support from major veterans service organizations (VSOs) across the country. Courtney had credited Gerry Wright with much of that success, stating that the bill “would not be possible without the tireless efforts of […] Mr. Gerry Wright, who has singlehandedly crisscrossed the country to raise the alarm about untreated Agent Orange cases.” Courtney has welcomed support for the Agent Orange Fairness Act from organizations including the Vietnam Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, AMVETS, the Fleet Reserve Officers Association, and more.