After 18 months of review by his department, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin awkwardly announced last week he plans to "further explore" adding ailments to the list of compensable conditions the agency presumes were caused by exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides used during the Vietnam War.
The decision to punt long-anticipated decisions on Agent Orange-related ailments will disappointment thousands of aging veterans with bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, Parkinson's-like tremors and high blood pressure.
Veterans and survivors were hopeful some or all of those conditions would be added to VA's presumptive list of ailments linked to wartime herbicides, based on the latest and final review from the National Academy of Medicine.
Instead, on the Nov. 1 deadline date that VA had set for this decision, Shulkin issued a brief statement promising only more delay.
A last sentence, not attributed to Shulkin, explained that the VA "will begin work with the administration to concurrently conduct a legal and regulatory review of these potential presumptive conditions for awarding disability compensation to eligible veterans."
In the past, VA began a regulatory review only after the secretary approved new ailments for the list. Shulkin hasn't named any new illnesses, but seemed to signal that parties elsewhere in the Trump administration didn't want a VA announcement at this time rejecting or embracing new conditions.
"We thought we were going to get a decision sometime today," said Rick Weidman with for Vietnam Veterans of America.
"Obviously, we were mistaken."
"I am shocked and dismayed if this is the VA Secretary's decision, to continue to delay," emailed Carla Dean, who lost her husband, a Vietnam veteran, to bladder cancer last year. Now president of the Bladder Cancer Foundation of Florida, Dean said she remained hopeful that Shulkin will do the "right thing soon."
A spokesman for Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House VA Committee, said he is reviewing the announcement, but added "veterans waiting for a final decision deserve certainty ..."
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