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VA To Give Benefits To Vets Exposed To Agent Orange

<p>Portland VA Medical Center.&nbsp;</p>

Alan Sylvestre

Portland VA Medical Center. 

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Thursday it will expand benefits to reservists who were exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange.

Oregon Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have lobbied the VA for years to get health care and disability benefits for these veterans.

Last week, the senators blocked the confirmation of a top VA official, arguing the agency needed to extend benefits to the C-123 veterans who were members of the Air National Guard and used C-123 aircraft stateside.

“These C-123 veterans deserve medical care and benefits for their exposure to the hazards of Agent Orange,” Wyden said. “I’m very pleased that the VA has decided that turning a cold shoulder to these veterans is the wrong thing to do and they have changed course.”

Sen. Merkley says the VA was slow to act, but the outcome is a victory.

“The health issues or injuries that come from Agent Orange don’t happen immediately, they happen years later,” he said. “When our citizen have served in the military and stood up for our nation we have to absolutely stand up for them.”

The planes the veterans used had been contaminated from carrying Agent Orange in Vietnam, and exposure largely took place after the Vietnam War ended.

The reservists were largely based in Ohio, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania between 1969 and 1986, according to the agency.

"Opening up eligibility for this deserving group of Air Force veterans and reservists is the right thing to do," said VA Secretary Robert McDonald in a statement. "We can now fully compensate any former crew member who develops an Agent Orange-related disability."

According to the VA, Agent Orange has been associated with various cancers, Parkinson’s disease and other health issues.

Copyright 2015 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Conrad Wilson is a reporter and producer covering criminal justice and legal affairs for OPB.