Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. David Shulkin said Monday he's decided to expand the list of "presumptive" ailments for Agent Orange compensation subject to approval by the Trump administration.
Shulkin didn't disclose the expanded list -- "I'm protecting the sanctity of the process" -- but stressed, "I have made a decision. I have passed that on in the process that we follow in the federal government."
A VA official later said Shulkin's recommendations on Agent Orange compensation expansion would go to the White House Office of Management and Budget and other agencies for approval and analysis of the costs. Shulkin said he expected approval "in a matter of a few months."
Shulkin's remarks on Agent Orange on Monday at the National Press Club were in contrast to the statement put out last week by the VA suggesting that decisions on expanding the list had been delayed yet again.
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The VA faced its own deadline of Nov. 1 for deciding on whether to include bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, Parkinson-like tremors and other ailments to the list for Agent Orange compensation based on a report from the National Academy of Medicine that had been sitting at the VA for 18 months.
After reviewing the academy report, Shulkin said in his statement last week, "I have made a decision to further explore new presumptive conditions for service connection that may ultimately qualify for disability compensation."
Shulkin readily acknowledged the confusion on what transpired last week in regards to expanding the list. "I'm glad to clarify this situation, since I think that it may be a little bit murky," he said.
The VA had received the NAM's report in early 2016 and had been required to approve or disapprove of its recommendations within 60 days. The VA failed to meet the initial deadline in another "example of the VA not performing at an acceptable level," Shulkin said.
Rather than committing last week to "further explore" an expansion, he had actually decided to expand the list, Shulkin said. "I made made a decision," he said. "I'm not announcing it," he said, but "my intention is to do what's right for veterans."
Any ailments Shulkin might add to the VA's current list of 14 "presumptive diseases" linked to herbicide exposure, including diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and prostate and respiratory cancers, would make many more thousands of Vietnam War veterans eligible for VA disability compensation and health care.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.