WASHINGTON – Congressman Vern Buchanan today co-sponsored legislation to expand health coverage to veterans exposed to the toxic chemical Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

The Keeping Our Promises Act would add nine more diseases to the list of conditions presumed to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange. The conditions joining the list include: prostate cancer, bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension, stroke, early-onset peripheral neuropathy, AL amyoloidosis, ischemic heart disease and Parkinson-like syndromes.

Recent research by the National Academy of Medicine has connected these nine diseases to agent orange. “It’s time we recognize these diseases in law and make sure our veterans have the health coverage they need and deserve,” Buchanan said. 

Including these diseases to the current list of conditions for presumptive coverage will allow veterans suffering from them to receive much-needed disability compensation from the VA.

“We cannot afford to wait any longer to help our nation’s veterans who have fallen ill to the exposure of the toxic chemical Agent Orange,” Buchanan said. “These veterans are heroes and they deserve the proper healthcare and treatment for the sacrifices they made for our country.”

The U.S. Air Force sprayed nearly 11 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam to defoliate jungles and remove cover used by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers. According to the National Academy of Medicine, their findings revealed “suggestive” evidence that eight of the diseases covered by the bill could have resulted from being exposed to Agent Orange. Researchers also say they found “sufficient” evidence for hypertension.

Veterans from Florida’s 16th congressional district are among those exposed to Agent Orange-contaminated water. Ronald Babcock, a Lakewood Ranch resident and Vietnam veteran, stated, “We drank it, we bathed in it, we cooked in it and we climbed all over the planes that flew through it.” 

In 2019, Buchanan co-sponsored the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (H.R. 299), which provided VA health benefits for Navy veterans who served on ships and ports off the coast of Vietnam during the war. Navy veterans who served in Vietnam, commonly referred to as “Blue Water” veterans, were eligible to receive benefits under the Agent Orange Act of 1991, but their eligibility was discontinued in 2002 by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act became law in 2019.

Buchanan, who represents more than 88,000 veterans in Southwest Florida, has a strong record of fighting for veterans and military families. In 2019, Buchanan introduced the Veterans Overmedication and Suicide Prevention Act, which requires the VA to study the link between addictive opioids and the alarmingly high rate of suicides among veterans. With veteran suicide rates on the rise in 2018, Buchanan wrote to VA Secretary Wilkie and demanded to know why the VA spent less than one percent of the $6.2 million in funding made available for a veteran suicide prevention program.