GREAT FALLS - Veterans who served during the Vietnam War say they continue experiencing side-effects of Agent Orange, a herbicide used to expose enemy fighters over 45 years ago. While the federal government has offered benefits for affected soldiers since 1991, some say the list of conditions covered is long due for an update.
As it stands, veterans from the war can get healthcare from the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) for certain cancers and illnesses, but it doesn't cover four major conditions: bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension and parkinsonism, which causes similar problems to those seen in Parkinson’s disease.
Among other illnesses, Vietnam War Veteran Bill Garberg said he's lived with hypertension since the early 1990s, with shakiness affecting his day-to-day life with something as seemingly simple as drinking a cup of coffee. While care from the VA has helped overall, Garber said they can do more for others like himself.
"If you're going to send a guy to war, you're going to have these individual problems coming back with post-traumatic stress, hypervigilance, hypertension, bladder cancer, prostate cancer,” said Garberg. “These things all take a toll on a man's life."
In a January 2020 report, the VA mentioned worries about possibly including those conditions in their coverage, citing other factors like age, race and life choices as possible causes for them outside of the herbicide.
However, Senator Jon Tester (D - Montana) said they're easy to prove due to the number of Agent Orange-related cases in the U.S.
"If you put a veteran in a situation where they're exposed to toxic substances that have created health conditions and illnesses, and it is done because of their services to this country? We need to take care of them. They wouldn't have been exposed otherwise,” said Tester.
The Senator said he'll continue pushing the VA and the White House in 2020 to expand their coverage and include those conditions.