08.07.17

SCHUMER: ROCHESTER VIETNAM VET BATTLING TERMINAL CANCER LINKED TO AGENT ORANGE EXPOSURE DURING HIS MILITARY SERVICE IS SEEING HIS COMPENSATION CLAIMS DENIED BECAUSE VA DOESN'T AUTOMATICALLY RECOGNIZE HIS CANCER AS ‘AGENT ORANGE-RELATED’; SENATOR CALLS ON FEDS TO ESTABLISH A PRESUMPTION OF SERVICE CONNECTION FOR GLIOBLASTOMA SO VETERANS CAN GET THE BENEFITS THEY’VE EARNED & DESERVE

Schumer: Vets Like Rochester Resident Tom Cray –Who Served Two Combat Tours In Vietnam And Was Exposed To Agent Orange- Are Now, Decades Later Being Diagnosed With Glioblastoma VA Does Not  Recognize Glioblastoma‎ ‎As An Agent Orange-Related Illness And Thus Forces Vets Like Tom To Pursue An Arduous Years-Long Appeals Process To Get Disability Compensation

Schumer Calls On U.S. Department Of Veterans' Affairs To Establish A Presumption Of Service Connection For Glioblastoma, Fix Data Gaps, And Make Glioblastoma Claims Info Public To Help Sick Veterans Like Tom; Tom's Doctors Say His Exposure To Agent Orange While Serving In Vietnam Is Likely A Factor in Causing His Glioblastoma

Schumer: Vets Like Tom Shouldn't Have To Declare Their Own War To Get The Benefits They Earned & Deserve

After learning that Rochester Vietnam veteran Tom Cray was diagnosed with Glioblastoma that could be linked to his exposure to Agent Orange during his military service, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer called on the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to immediately help Tom's family's secure VA compensation for his illness and to establish a presumption of service connection for Glioblastoma. Schumer stood alongside Lindsay Cray, whose father, Vietnam Veteran Tom Cray was recently diagnosed with a glioblastoma, a malignant brain tumor, decades after he was exposed to Agent Orange during two combat tours in Vietnam. Schumer explained that Mr. Cray does not receive service-related compensation for his cancer because it is not recognized as a service-connected illness by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Veterans like Tom Cray shouldn’t have to wage their own war and gather the epidemiological facts about glioblastoma in order to receive earned benefits,” said Senator Schumer. “Our brave service members fought to protect our freedom and it’s our obligation to care for them now that they’re home. Hundreds of veterans who served in Vietnam and Southeast Asia region, where dioxins like Agent Orange are known to be present, have been diagnosed with Glioblastoma over the past decade.  It’s time for the feds to assist the veterans and their families who are working to see the VA establish a presumption of service connection for Glioblastoma. I’m calling on the Department of Veteran’s Affairs to double down on its investigations of any potential causal relationship between Glioblastoma and Agent Orange and make the information needed by these veterans publicly available. When and if it is determined there is a link, our veterans should get the compensation they earned and deserve.”

Schumer explained that per the Agent Orange Act of 1991, the VA automatically accepts that if a Vietnam Veteran served physically in Vietnam between January 1962 and May 1975, it is probable that the veteran was exposed to an herbicide agent like Agent Orange. Furthermore, the Act established a list of “presumed” diseases that the VA stipulates are caused by Agent Orange exposure. Therefore, if a veteran served in Vietnam at any time between 1962-1975 and is diagnosed with one of the diseases VA recognizes as service connected, and the VA compensate  the veteran and his or her family.

However, Glioblastoma does not carry a presumption of service connection, meaning that veterans like Mr. Cray, not only are not eligible for service-connected disability compensation, but they and their families must instead pursue an often years long appeal process with the VA. This process places a burden on the veteran, requiring that they conduct their own medical research and plead their case to the VA. While between 2009-2016, the VA Appeals Board approved about two dozen of the approximately 100 Glioblastoma claims, organizations like the Vietnam Veterans of American (VVA) which helps veterans like Tom pursue these appeals, say that VA's practice of not making claims information available to the public available is unnecessarily encumbers the ability of veterans to prepare and argue their appeals. 

Schumer explained that he is pushing the VA to take several key steps so that it can provide vets with the compensation they have earned: First, the VA should continue to assess whether Glioblastoma is in fact linked to Agent Orange exposure. The VA is now commissioning a study by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, that will examine links between Glioblastoma to Agent Orange. Schumer today, in a letter to VA Secretary Shulkin, called on the VA to provide all necessary support to conduct this study on a timely basis and to provide any and all resources to conduct any subsequent research that will be recommended by the study.

Second, in the meantime, Schumer is calling on the VA to make publically available information on all claims filed by veterans for Glioblastoma. Schumer, along with groups like the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), says the VA should make more information publicly available on glioblastoma claims to help families like Tom Cray’s family and organizations like the Vietnam Veterans of American (VVA) that help families prepare their claims.  Without access to past filings, new claimants like the Crays are left to "reinvent the wheel" with each new case to show the linkage between Agent Orange exposure and Glioblastoma. There is a lot of key information in those filings that can help subsequent claimants like the Cray's argue their case to the VA. 

Lastly, Schumer is calling on the VA to take steps to fix the gaps in its data set of known Vietnam Veterans diagnosed with Glioblastoma. Currently the VA only shows approximately 500 veterans diagnosed since 2000 because the VA only counts those diagnosed at a VA Hospital but not those diagnosed at the non-VA hospital such as Mr. Cray. To better assess and research the connection of this cancer to herbicide exposure, the VA should take steps to correct these known dataset gaps. 

Schumer pointed to the VA’s process for acknowledging service-related illnesses. For instance, at one time, Parkinson’s disease was not considered service-related among Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange. In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine published a study on veterans and Agent Orange. The study suggested limited evidence that exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides during the Vietnam War were associated with an increased chance of developing Parkinson’s disease. Subsequently, later that year, the VA announced that Parkinson’s disease would be added to the list of conditions connected to exposure to herbicide agents.

Schumer explained, Tom served two combat tours in Vietnam and was sadly diagnosed with Glioblastoma in January 2017 at a non-VA hospital.  His family submitted a VA claim to cover the cost of his cancer treatment. And although each of his three physicians have documented their medical opinion that his Glioblastoma is at least as likely as not caused by his Agent Orange exposure, the VA is requiring the Cray family to provide independent medical studies or evidence to support their claim, despite the likelihood that this type of evidence has previously been submitted to the VA by prior claimants. After he was first diagnosed with Glioblastoma in January, Tom’s daughter Lindsay was concerned that the VA would not approve his Glioblastoma as service-connected and thus not cover his cancer’s treatment, Schumer’s office reached out to Lindsay and offered to help. Schumer led a delegation letter co-signed by Senator Gillibrand and Congresswoman Slaughter to request the VA quickly review his claim for approval. Unfortunately because Glioblastoma is not on the presumed list, the VA denied the claim. Then this Spring Lindsay Cray appealed the denial and submitted medical opinions from Tom Cray's doctors that his Glioblastoma is likely a factor linked to his exposure to Agent Orange.

As a result, the VA said it would consider Lindsay’s appeal since she had unanimous medical opinions, but in order to proceed the VA is requiring Lindsay Cray to submit copies of medical studies and any other materials to show the linkage between Agent Orange and Glioblastoma, even though the VA has previously approved nearly two dozen similar claims, it requires every claimant to start from ground zero, putting the burden on families and sick veterans to research medical journals or provide studies to get the VA to approve compensation. 

Schumer was joined by the Cray family and local veterans.

Lindsay Cray said, “Tom Cray isn't just my father. He is a hero to so many more. In his 40 years of work with veterans, he has worked tirelessly to advocate for hundreds of other brothers and sisters in arms and their families and his latest battle now with Glioblastoma is no exception.  Like so many other veterans and families of veterans exposed to Agent Orange who then decades later were afflicted with this disease, his fight is helping to shine a light on the need for the VA to address Glioblastoma’s connection to Agent Orange so that veterans and their families can receive the rightful care and support they need.”

A copy of Schumer’s letter appears below:

Dear Secretary Shulkin,

As the Veterans’ Administration (VA) and National Academy of Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering (NAM) work to examine potential causal relationships between certain illnesses and exposure to dioxins such as Agent Orange, I ask that the VA to take several steps to better assist the veterans, families, and Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) who are working to see the VA establish a presumption of service connection for Glioblastoma. As you know, Glioblastoma accounts for nearly 15% of all brain tumors and accounts for the highest number of cases of all malignant tumors. The America Brain Tumor Association (ABTA) estimates over 12,000 new cases in 2017.

First, I request that the VA make publically available all claims submitted by veterans, or VSOs on a veteran’s behalf, for service-connected disability compensation due to a veteran’s diagnosis of Glioblastoma. This should include any related medical or scientific information appropriately screened to safeguard any personal information. Because Glioblastoma does not currently carry a presumption of service connection, veterans and their families are forced to pursue an often years-long appeal process for disability compensation. While the VA Appeals Board issued about 20 affirmative determinations on these cases between 2009-2016, organizations like Vietnam Veterans of America report that the lack of ready access to the initial claim filings needlessly encumbers their ability to discover new information necessary to advocate for subsequent claimants. 

Tom Cray, my constituent from Rochester, New York who served bravely in Vietnam, has pursued service-related compensation for his Glioblastoma for several months. Tom served two combat tours in Vietnam and was diagnosed with Glioblastoma in January 2017 at a non-VA hospital.  His family subsequently submitted a VA claim to cover the cost of his cancer treatment. Although his physicians have documented that his Glioblastoma is likely a factor linked to his exposure to Agent Orange, the VA is requiring the Cray family to provide independent medical studies or evidence to support their claim, despite the likelihood that this type of evidence has previously been submitted to the VA by prior claimants. 

Secondly, I ask that the VA take steps to fill the known gaps in its Glioblastoma data set for Vietnam era veterans. Currently, the VA approximates that 500 veterans have been diagnosed with Glioblastoma since 2000. This is because the VA only maintains tracks the number of veterans diagnosed at a VA Hospital, but not those such as Mr. Cray who were diagnosed at a non-VA hospital. To better assess the potential links between this cancer and herbicide exposure, the VA should take steps to correct these known discrepancies.  

Finally, I encourage the VA to commission research to determine whether a causal relationship exists between Glioblastoma and exposure to dioxins like Agent Orange. I applaud the VA for authorizing the National Academy of Medicine to begin new research on Glioblastoma among Vietnam era veterans: Possible generational health effects that may be the result of herbicide exposure among male Vietnam veterans, myeloproliferative neoplasms, and glioblastoma.  It is likely this study will yield the need for further follow-up research on Glioblastoma therefore I urge the VA to provide all necessary support to conduct this study in a timely fashion and to provide any and all resources to conduct subsequent research that will be recommended by the study

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Thank you,

Charles E. Schumer 

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