Local veterans get support for bill by U.S. Sen. Brown

A U.S. senator from Ohio wants Veterans Affairs benefits extended to Vietnam War-era veterans who served in Thailand and suffered exposure to herbicides.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said he will co-sponsor legislation that would modify the presumption of a service connection for veterans who were exposed to herbicide agents while serving in the U.S. armed forces in Thailand during the Vietnam War.

The step comes after the Dayton Daily News and WHIO recently published stories outlining the challenges many Thailand veterans face in securing VA benefits.

American soldiers, Marines and airmen who served in Vietnam enjoy a nearly automatic VA presumption that they were exposed to these herbicides, sometimes popularly called “Agent Orange.” That presumption makes it easier for them to win crucial benefits.

However, those who served in Thailand are offered no such presumption. Thailand veterans have to make their case to the VA, proving exposure through documentation or other means — and they say that can be difficult to do sometimes.

“We’re the stepchildren of the Vietnam War because we weren’t in country in the Vietnam War,” Bob McHenry, 72, of Centerville, recently told Cox Media Group Ohio.

The bill was introduced in May by Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark. It has been read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.

“All veterans exposed to Agent Orange, or other toxic chemicals during their military service, should have access to care and benefits,” Brown, D-Ohio, said in a statement late Monday. “These veterans are being denied benefits because of where they served. It’s time to make this right.”

Brown’s office called Air Force veteran and Xenia resident Paul Skinner Monday and told him the senator will co-sponsor the bill.

“It’s great to get another senator,” Skinner said Tuesday.

Sixty votes is usually what it takes to ensure a bill’s passage in the Senate. So far, the bill has the support of just seven senators.

Skinner’s goal is to work with fellow veterans to build support to meet that filibuster-proof threshold. To that end, Skinner said he is reaching out to Sen. Rob Portman’s office and urging fellow veterans to contact their own senators and representatives.

“We’ve got 53 more to go,” he said. “I have pleaded with people on the Agent Orange Facebook site. I said, ‘Guys, it doesn’t take that much work. It takes persistence. Sure, you sent a letter out and you didn’t get a (response) back. Don’t sit and whine on Facebook.’”

“Tell them you’re going to be calling and calling and calling,” he added. “That’s what I did. I called Brown’s office so many times.”

SB 1381 is one of at least two bills in Congress that addresses the issue. House Bill 2201 was introduced by U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., in April 2019. That legislation has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs.

Brown’s office said that after the senator reviewed the legislation, “Our office determined that the bill was another important step to take to help Ohio veterans.”

“Since the bill has bipartisan support, we’re hopeful that (Senate Majority ) Leader (Mitch) McConnell will do the right thing and bring the bill to the floor for a vote and Senate passage,” Brown’s office also said. “Sen. Brown will continue fighting to get veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals like Agent Orange the benefits they’ve earned.”

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The Dayton Daily News and WHIO first published the story about area Vietnam War veterans who were denied VA benefits. Count on us to continue our in-depth coverage on veterans affairs.

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