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Begich Meets with Shinseki on Agent Orange, other issues

VA Secretary accepts invitation to Alaska, see veterans' challenges firsthand

In a meeting with Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki today, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich reiterated his support for the recent decision to add three more diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure to the list of those the Veterans Administration (VA) will automatically cover under disability compensation.

Begich, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, met with Shinseki one day before the Veterans Affairs Committee holds a hearing called "VA Disability Compensation: Presumptive Disability Decision-Making" where the committee will take testimony on the three new diseases; Ischemic heart disease; Parkinson's disease; and chronic B-cell leukemia.

"Vietnam Vets were shortchanged for too long. They fought honorably for our country and should not have to prove their illness is due to exposure to Agent Orange," Begich said. "They fought through some of the most challenging terrain in the jungles of Vietnam, and they shouldn't have to continue fighting the system when they get sick."

The VA presumes all 2.6 million veterans who served in Vietnam had exposure to Agent Orange, a toxic defoliant used by the U.S. to destroy foliage in the jungles. If veterans have one of 15 diseases, they don't have to prove they were in an area where the defoliant was sprayed and therefore prove the disease resulted from military service. Ischemic heart disease, Parkinson's, and chronic B-cell leukemia were added to the list last month.

Additionally, Sec. Shinseki accepted an invitation from Sen. Begich to visit Alaska and see firsthand the needs of rural Alaska veterans. This summer, at the request of Begich, a team of management personnel from the Department of Veterans Affairs conducted listening sessions with rural veterans in Nome, Golovin and Kenai. Begich also put together a working session with the Indian Health Service, Tribal health entities and the VA to discuss greater access to health care for veterans and ways to ease the benefits process.

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