Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer came to Dunkirk Thursday to ratchet up the pressure on the Trump administration to expand federal benefits to more Vietnam War veterans exposed to the deadly defoliant Agent Orange.
“After years and years of kicking the can down the road, it is high time for the federal government to accept the substantial proof linking bladder cancer, hypertension, hypothyroidism and Parkinsonism to Agent Orange exposure, and add these conditions to the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list," said Schumer, a New York Democrat, in remarks prepared for the event.
Schumer has been pressuring the Trump administration for months to expand the number of medical conditions that qualify for federal health and disability benefits connected with exposure to Agent Orange, a now-banned defoliant that was widely used in the Vietnam War.
And on Thursday, he came to Memorial Park in Dunkirk for an event with local veterans where he hammered home his point.
“It’s unfathomable that the administration is refusing to do right by our nation’s veterans, including the more than 240,000 New York veterans that bravely served during the Vietnam era, and has unilaterally blocked the VA from expanding health care benefits to those exposed to Agent Orange,” Schumer said.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine issued a report in 2016 suggesting that those additional medical conditions are linked to Agent Orange. But Trump's Office of Management and Budget has blocked additional health care coverage and disability benefits for Vietnam vets with those conditions, citing the costs of covering an additional 190,000 veterans.
To press the administration, Schumer and Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, have written to the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Trump budget offices about the issue, while spearheading a letter from 42 Democratic senators to the president about it.
Calling the Trump budget office's position on the aid "a disgrace," Schumer said in an interview after the Dunkirk event: "Hopefully by bringing this to light, we can get something done."
Asked if it was difficult to work with the Trump administration on such issues than with previous administrations, Schumer added: "It's harder in general, but I think when it comes to veterans, the pressure will still work – and we've been supported by all the big veterans groups throughout New York State, throughout Western New York, and throughout the country."