Reps Newman & Salazar propose benefits to Panama Canal Veterans exposed to Agent Orange
The Panama Canal Zone Veterans Act would grant federal benefits to veterans who served in or near the Panama Canal Zone (PCZ), all of whom were potentially exposed to deadly tactical herbicides such as Agent Orange
U.S. Representatives Marie Newman (D-IL-03) and María Elvira Salazar’s (R-FL-27) introduced new legislation to provide federal benefits to veterans who served in or near the Panama Canal Zone and may have been exposed to deadly tactical herbicide.
Also known as Agent Purple or Agent Orange, the tactical herbicide was used by the military in this area during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
Under the Panama Canal Zone Veterans Act, veterans who served in or near the Panama Canal Zone would be granted presumptive herbicide exposure status, meaning they could receive federal benefits and disability compensation from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).
The bill would expand presumptive coverage to these veterans, similar to the coverage for those who served in Vietnam, along the Korean DMZ and on the base perimeters in Thailand.
“Hundreds of veterans who honorably served our nation in Panama have come home with major health issues after being exposed to Agent Orange and Agent Purple. To this day, not any of these men and women have received benefits or disability compensation from the federal government as a result of their exposure to these deadly tactical herbicides,” said Congresswoman Newman.
“This is personal to me because I come from a family who served in the military. It has always been my belief that our government has a fundamental obligation to honor our veterans by providing them with the care they need and deserve. That is why I urge all members of Congress to support the Panama Canal Zone Veterans Act so we can further ensure our nation lives up to that promise.”
“Our Veterans have given so much to our country and anyone exposed to Agent Orange in the line of duty needs to receive the full benefits they earned,” said Congresswoman Salazar.
“Our Panama Canal Zone Veterans deserve access to the same treatment and benefits as others who served in similar conditions. It is long past time we recognize the sacrifices of those who defended this strategic position when our nation called on them.”
Throughout the Vietnam War, thousands of veterans served in the Panama Canal Zone. However, the VA does not currently provide benefits to those veterans because they incorrectly claim that herbicide was not used in the area, despite the fact that at least 400 Americans of those who served have now developed cancer, heart disease or other health issues consistent with herbicide exposure.
While proving exposure is nearly impossible due to a lack of record keeping and the inability to know the precise location of spraying, what records exist corroborate the presence of herbicide in the Panama Canal Zone during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
According to the United States’ own records, both Agent Purple and Agent Orange were shipped to Panama from 1958 until at least December 1977. These herbicides were used routinely as needed on military bases in the area as well as used to kill poison ivy, poison oak and sumac where troops were deployed.
By passing the Panama Canal Zone Veterans Act, Congress can provide thousands of American veterans who were potentially exposed to deadly herbicides with the care and benefits they need and deserve.
The legislation introduced today is endorsed by Military Veterans Advocacy, which works to ensure that the rights of millions of members of the armed forces are protected and that veterans receive their earned benefits without delay from the federal government.
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