Agent Orange Exposure in Vietnam War Focus of New Bill in Congress

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Last July, we sat down to talk with Vietnam War veterans who say they're suffering from diseases caused by exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Southeast Asia.

They say they've been denied VA benefits because they were in Thailand and not Vietnam, when they came in contact with the chemicals.

"I hope everybody will get behind us and help get this legislation pushed through. The thing that it will do is help thousands of veterans," says Bill Rhodes, a Vietnam Veteran who served in Thailand.

After that interview, Arkansas U.S. Senator John Boozman announced he's sponsoring a bi-partisan bill to allow those veterans to qualify for VA health benefits.

Thursday, on the other side, in the U.S. House, Arkansas Representative Bruce Westerman introduced a measure that would help veterans in a similar way.

During the Vietnam War, Agent Orange and other herbicides were used to clear away the jungle.

But the chemicals are now linked to a long list of diseases and birth defects.

Veterans exposed to the chemicals are eligible for VA benefits, including disability payments, but some say they're being left out.

“You were not stationed at one of the Royal Thai air bases being associated with herbicide exposure,” says Bill Rhodes, Marine veteran.

Rhodes was based in Thailand during the Vietnam War. The former Marine says he suffers from health conditions associated with exposure to herbicides but the VA has denied his claims, saying he was not stationed in an eligible area.
“We make a promise to our veterans as a country when they join the military that they're gonna get a certain set of benefits,” says Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR).

A year ago, Rhodes took the issue to Congressman Westerman. On Thursday, Westerman filed a bill to expand the eligible zone to include all Vietnam veterans who served in Thailand.

“There’s probably several thousand that are experiencing the same issue we are,” Rhodes adds.

Over video chat, we spoke with Rhodes from his home in Western Arkansas. 

“There’s a multitude of things that were wrong and I realized someone had to do something,” he continues.

Rhodes says some veterans have died waiting for coverage. He hopes the bill moves quickly through Congress to prevent more from suffering the same fate.

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