Dec. 3 (UPI) -- A bill that would expand Veterans Affairs coverage for Agent Orange-linked illnesses has been rolled into this year's National Defense Authorization Act.
The Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act, introduced by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., establishes a presumption of service connection for veterans suffering from bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinson's disease.
"This is a monumental win for more than 34,000 Vietnam veterans who have been subjected to countless delays while living with debilitating illnesses associated with their exposure to Agent Orange," Tester said in a press release.
"Inclusion of my amendment in the annual defense package sends a clear message to Vietnam veterans that their service is not forgotten," Tester said.
Agent Orange is one of several "tactical herbicides" used by the U.S. military during Operation Ranch Hand, a multi-year chemical warfare operation during the Vietnam War, exposing millions of Vietnamese people and at least 500,000 American troops to the chemical.
Veterans began making claims due to health problems linked with Agent Orange in 1977, but those claims were typically rejected by the Department of Veterans Affairs unless patients could prove their health problems began within a year of discharge.
But the department has gradually expanded its coverage of illnesses linked with the chemical, most recently extending benefits to Navy personnel who served aboard ships within 12 nautical miles of the coast of Vietnam and Cambodia during the war.
"It's my hope that both the House and Senate can quickly move this bill to the President, and that he signs it into law without any delay," Tester said. "These Vietnam veterans have already waited long enough."