Federal appeals court orders VA to pay veterans exposed to Agent Orange

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) [official website] must pay retroactive benefits to Vietnam War veterans afflicted by chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) [NCI backgrounder], rejecting the VA's contention that it is not required to re-adjudicate or provide benefits to veterans afflicted with the disease before 2003 because the Agent Orange Act of 1991 [text], which established a presumption that Vietnam veterans' defoliant exposure contributed to dioxin-linked diseases afflicting the veterans, had expired in 2002. In 2003, the VA issued a regulation finding that CLL was associated with exposure to dioxin [NIH backgrounder; WHO backgrounder, PDF]. Rejecting the VA's claims, Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote:

The answer to the legal question on this appeal is quite apparent. The Department of Veterans Affairs is obligated by law to pay disability benefits to the veterans who are suffering from Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia as a result of their exposure to Agent Orange, a noxious chemical widely used by our government in the course of the Vietnam war. Three different Congresses in three different decades have enacted legislation signed by three different presidents, designed to ensure the payment of such benefits to veterans afflicted with Agent Orange-related ailments. What is difficult for us to comprehend is why the Department of Veterans Affairs, having entered into a settlement agreement and agreed to a consent order some 16 years ago, continues to resist its implementation so vigorously, as well as to resist equally vigorously the payment of desperately needed benefits to Vietnam war veterans who fought for their country and suffered grievous injury as a result of our government's own conduct. Whether the Vietnam war was just or not, whether one favored or opposed it, one thing is clear. Those young Americans who risked their lives in their country's service and are even today suffering greatly as a result are deserving of better treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs than they are currently receiving. We would hope that this litigation will now end, that our government will now respect the legal obligations it undertook in the Consent Decree some 16 years ago, that obstructionist bureaucratic opposition will now cease, and that our veterans will finally receive the benefits to which they are morally and legally entitled.
The United States sprayed approximately 18 million gallons of defoliants like Agent Orange [VA backgrounder] in Vietnam. Approximately three million Vietnamese plaintiffs are currently appealing [JURIST report] the dismissal [PDF text; JURIST report] of their civil lawsuit against more than 30 American chemical companies that supplied the chemicals. In 1984, chemical manufacturers reached a private settlement with over 10,000 US war veterans. AP has more.


 

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