Sanders Statement from Veterans Committee Hearing

VA Disability Compensation: Presumptive Disability Decision-Making
September 23, 2010
G-50 Dirksen Senate Office Building
9:30 AM

As Prepared:

Mr. Chairman, I want to thank Secretary Shinseki and the other witnesses for their participation in today’s hearing.

I publicly want to express my support for Secretary Shinseki’s decision, based on existing law, to add three new presumptive medical conditions as service-connected for Vietnam veterans.

I just want to say to my colleagues, that I personally see this as the ongoing cost of war.

We have witnessed over and over -- wartime decisions that were tools of warfare, but had an adverse impact of the health of the very young men and women this nation has placed in harm’s way.

After all, it took over 50 years to officially recognize the adverse impact of exposure to ionizing radiation on service members.

The Agent Orange Act of 1991, which is the fundamental topic of this hearing, enabled VA to begin treating and compensating veterans exposured in Vietnam because of “positive association.”

Mr. Chairman, it has been my experience in dealing with veterans, especially those with serious medical conditions, that all they really want is timely access to quality health care.

When this nation needed these young men and women to go into harm’s way, they went.

However, when those same veterans come back knocking on the door at DoD or VA medical centers seeking health care, they too often found themselves turned away or denied health care because of rules and regulations that would rather “split hairs” than provide health care.

This debate is about a presumption decision-making process rather than meeting the health care needs of veterans.

Agent Orange was a “kick-the-can-down-the-road” issue that is so common inside the Beltway, but doesn’t make a bit of sense to the men and women who truly believe VA is their health care system.

Secretary Shinseki, I want to apologize to you for putting you and your predecessors in such a position as to give you the authority and responsibility, then turn around only to question and second-guess your decision-making process.

I am confident that you labored over this decision and sought wise counsel.

The presumption process dates back long before Agent Orange and has repeatedly accomplished one objective that I think we can all agree on – truly demonstrated the thanks of a grateful nation, by aggressively addressing health care needs and, if necessary, providing veterans with their earned benefits.

My colleagues, on the issue of cost, none of us are willing to put a pricetag on good health.

If cost is a concern, then cost should be discussed before sending service members into harm’s way.

Clearly, this is about the ongoing cost of war.

The costs of our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan will be paid by not only this generation, but generations to come.

Personally, I believe no veteran should ever, ever be denied timely access to the VA health care system, especially if they truly believe their medical condition was due to their service in the armed forces.

How can we call these brave service members “heroes” in one breath, then question their integrity and intensions when they come to the VA for assistance?

I would ask my colleagues, how many Vietnam veterans do you think this nation failed due to inaction between 1975 and 1991?

Mr. Chairman, again, I want to thank Secretary Shinseki for his leadership and applaud his efforts on behalf of Vietnam veterans.