Sunday, August 9, 2009

Bill to restore VA healthcare enrollment for Gulf War, Agent Orange veterans Passes House

Written by Anthony Hardie, 91outcomes
Source: H.Rpt. 111-223.
( - Saturday, August 8, 2009) - A bill has passed the U.S. House of Representatives that would restore the federal VA's authority to enroll Gulf War veterans in VA health care under Priority Group 6 if they don't already have a service-connected disability or are otherwise already enrolled in VA health care.
Section 202 of H.R. 3219, the Veterans' Insurance and Health Care Improvements Act of 2009, would provide for enhanced enrollment authority for certain Vietnam-era veterans exposed to herbicide and veterans of the Persian Gulf War.

H.R. 3219 was introduced by Representative Bob Filner of California, Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans' Affairs, on July 15, 2009.
H.R. 3219 would provide for key expansions and improvements in the provision of health care. This includes eliminating copayments for veterans who are catastrophically disabled, and providing enhanced VA healthcare enrollment authority for certain Vietnam-era herbicide exposed veterans and veterans of the Persian Gulf War.

H.R. 3219 would also improve U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) insurance programs. This legislation would make permanent the two-year extension of the free Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI) coverage period for totally disabled veterans following separation from active or reserve duty. In addition, H.R. 3219 would enable veterans insured under the Veterans' Group Life Insurance (VGLI) program to increase the amount of their coverage under this program. This legislation also would eliminate the reduction in the amount of accelerated death benefits for terminally-ill persons insured under the SGLI and VGLI programs.

H.R. 3219 is comprised of a number of bills introduced in the first session of the 111th Congress. These bills include H.R. 1335, to prohibit the VA from collecting certain copayments from catastrophically disabled veterans, introduced by Representative Deborah L. Halvorson (D-Ill.-11); H.R. 2379, the Veterans' Group Life Insurance Improvement Act of 2009, introduced by Representative Steve Buyer (R-Ind.); H.R. 2926, to provide without expiration health care services to certain Vietnam-era veterans exposed to herbicide and to veterans of the Persian Gulf War, introduced by Representative Glenn C. Nye (D-Virg.); and, H.R. 2968, to eliminate the required reduction in the amount of the accidental death benefit payable to certain terminally-ill veterans insured under the Servicemembers' Group life Insurance or Veterans' Group life Insurance programs, introduced by Representative Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.).

Agent Orange was one of the defoliants used by the United States military in the Vietnam War. In the 1970's, some veterans became concerned about the delayed adverse health effects potentially resulting from their exposure to Agent Orange. Agent Orange contained dioxin and recent studies suggest a link between dioxin and cancer and other disorders. The VA has a list of diseases, which it presumes resulted from exposure to herbicides such as Agent Orange. However, the full impact of herbicides remains unknown and Vietnam-era veterans continue to face challenges in linking their conditions to herbicide exposure.

Similarly, veterans returning from the Gulf War faced health problems. Symptoms included persistent memory and concentration problems, chronic headaches, widespread pain, gastrointestinal problems, and other chronic abnormalities not explained by well-established diagnoses. Veterans were unable to link these conditions to their service in the Gulf War and thus, unable to establish a service connected disability rating.

On November 17, 2008, the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses released a report entitled `Gulf War Illness and the Health of Gulf War Veterans: Scientific Findings and Recommendations.' The report indicated that Gulf War Illness is real for some of the military personnel who served in the 1990-1991 Gulf War and were exposed to some potentially hazardous substances. With this report linking symptoms of Gulf War Illness to the war, veterans of the Gulf war era may now seek to establish service-connected disabilities.

In 1981, Public Law 97-72 (95 Stat. 1047) provided the VA with a special treatment authority to provide health care to Vietnam veterans who may have been exposed to herbicides, notwithstanding that there was insufficient medical evidence to conclude that their disabilities were associated with exposure to herbicides while serving in Vietnam. This authority was extended through 1996 with Public Law 104-262 (110 Stat. 3177). Similarly, Public Law 103-210 (102 Stat. 2760) provided special treatment authority to veterans who served in the Persian Gulf War in the Southwest Asia theater of operations who were exposed to toxic substances or environmental hazards. In 1997, Public Law 105-114 (111 Stat. 2277) removed the requirement that the veteran had to be exposed to toxic substances or environmental hazards and only required service in the Southwest Asia theatre of operations during the Persian Gulf War. In 1998, Public Law 105-368 (112 Stat. 3315) extended the authority through 2001 and Public Law 107-135 (115 Stat. 2446) provided for another extension through 2002.

Although this special treatment authority has lapsed, the VA has continued to treat these veterans within Priority Group 6.
H.R. 3219 would provide permanent authorization for the special treatment authority of Vietnam-era herbicide exposed veterans and Gulf War era veterans who have insufficient medical evidence to establish a service-connected disability.

H.R. 3219 passed the House on July 27, and now awaits consideration by the U.S. Senate.


Letters and emails expressing support for the Agent Orange and Gulf War provision should be addressed to:

Senator Daniel Akaka, Chair and Senator Richard Burr, Ranking Member, U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, 412 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510
Rep. Bob Filner, Chair and Rep. Steve Buyer, Ranking Member, U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans' Affairs, 335 Cannon House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515
Courtesy copies of the original letters or emails should be sent to the Senator and Representative who represent the state and Congressional district in which their author resides. A nationwide database providing complete contact information on local Congressional representation is available at

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