Updated: February 13, 2020 10:56 PM
Created: February 13, 2020 10:49 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- Decades after fighting for their country, local veterans are fighting for their lives.
Retired Army 1st Sgt. Jim Rogers told KOB 4, "I was originally drafted in 1969 and declined an opportunity to go to helicopter flight school so the Army put me in the infantry. That's what I did there."
Rogers served 27 years in the military including the Vietnam War then suffered a heart attack in 2001 but didn’t apply for VA benefits until 2011.
“Of course, Agent Orange was everywhere over there. Today it's presumptive if you were in country, you were exposed to it,” he said.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the VA has established a presumption of service connection for 14 diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure.
However, according to the National Academy of Medicine, there are four conditions linked to Agent Orange not on the list.
Those illnesses include hyperthyroidism, hypertension, bladder cancer and Parkinson’s-like symptoms.
Rogers told KOB 4 he suffers from hyperthyroidism and hypertension and stands to be impacted by the government’s decision.
Lawmakers demand action
On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and dozens of Senate Democrats sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to add those ailments to the list of diseases believed to be linked to Agent Orange exposure.
Heinrich told KOB 4, “There's a pact there that says if you're willing to take up arms and defend your nation that that nation should also take care of you for the injuries that that service entails and that pact is not being met by this administration."
A spokesperson with the VA told KOB 4, “The department currently awaits the results of two studies, Vietnam Era Health Retrospective Observational Study, and Vietnam Era Mortality Study, that will guide decisions on this issue.”
According to the spokesperson, “(The) VA is committed to regular review of all emerging evidence of adverse impacts to Veterans from Agent Orange, but the department will not be announcing any new presumptive conditions until there is sufficient evidence to support an informed decision.”
In his letter to President Trump, Heinrich wrote: “Your Administration’s refusal to add these conditions to the presumptive list continues to deny more than 190,000 sick and aging veterans the health care and compensation they have earned and desperately need.”
Rogers said he’s critical of the VA and Congress.
“We all went and put our life on the line...let's have a little trade off here, a little give and take,” he said.
“I think it should just be a done deal because we did what we needed to do now the government needs to stand up and do what they need to do – for us,” Rogers added.
According to VA, the cost of caring for Vietnam vets affected by Agent Orange or their survivors could cost more than $15 billion.
Heinrich told KOB 4 lawmakers could bypass the administration and pass a law requiring the VA to add the conditions.
“We are exploring those options,” Heinrich said.
“We shouldn’t have to do that. We shouldn’t have to pass a standalone bill…in order to get what should be basic care covered by the veterans administration,” he added.
For a look at the full letter, click here.
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