Rochester, N.Y. - A new effort is underway to help Vietnam War veterans who are suffering from brain cancer because of exposure to "Agent Orange."
Glioblastoma is a form of brain cancer which many doctors and veterans say can be linked to the herbicide used during the Vietnam War. That's the same cancer Vietnam veteran and Arizona Senator John McCain now suffers from.
Unfortunately for many Vietnam veterans, the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs doesn’t consider Glioblastoma to be a form of cancer related to "Agent Orange" exposure. But the VA has made exceptions in the past, allowing some veterans to prove the connection between exposure to the chemical and cancer in order to receive treatment.
"There have been more than 20 individual appeals of vets with Glioblastoma that have been approved. But they're still making everyone jump through all these hoops,” Sen. Chuck Schumer said at a news conference Monday.
One of the veterans trying to receive that treatment now is Tom Cray of Rochester. While serving in the U.S. Navy, Tom was a part of two combat tours in Vietnam from 1970-73. He was diagnosed with Glioblastoma in January.
“Veterans like Mr. Cray not only don't receive the medical treatment from the VA, but they're also forced to collect their own medical research to plead their case to the VA,” Sen. Schumer said.
Cray’s daughter, Lindsay, has been instrumental in the fight to get Tom the treatment he needs.
Senator Schumer joined Lindsay at the Veterans Outreach Center on South Avenue in Rochester Monday to outline what he wants to see change.
In a letter to the V.A., Sen. Schumer is requesting the organization take another look at the connection between "Agent Orange" exposure and Glioblastoma. Schumer also wants the V.A. to make changes to help vets get the care they need.
The V.A. already recognizes Tom’s heart disease and diabetes are linked to the "Agent Orange" herbicide, but his family is still working on getting V.A. benefits and treatment to help Tom battle Glioblastoma.
"Our family no longer has the time or the financial resources to continue doing this on our own,” Lindsay Cray said. “One way or another, the V.A. should be willing to help us with this."
Lindsay adds her father’s three doctors at Strong Hospital say it’s likely his case of brain cancer is linked to "Agent Orange" exposure.
Senator Schumer’s letter to the VA reads as follows:
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.
Charles E. Schumer