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Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012--Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Madam President, I thank the Senator from Arizona. We want to make sure any veteran who has a positive causation factor from any aspect that would lead to any disability, that we meet that need. That is not what this is about.

This has been looked at two times by the Institute of Medicine. The first time there was no study--none of the studies they cited showed even positive association. The last time we had two that showed some positive association but absolutely no causation. There is a big difference in science. Something can be associated with something and doesn't mean it causes it. On that basis, the Secretary committed this country to make payments to people for disabilities that are not associated with their service. The point is, in a limited budget going forward, if we are paying for disabilities that are not associated with service, that means we are going to have less money available for those veterans who do have a disability.

We have heard, No. 1, this will reverse all that has come before. It will not. It is prospective only. It will not change the presumption that if someone was in or above Vietnam they have the presumption of being exposed to Agent Orange. That will not change at all. The previous scientific diseases that were based on causation will not be eliminated at all. But, in fact, those that are not associated with causality will be eliminated.

Will they be eliminated in the future? If the science at some point in time shows us that there is a causal relationship between that exposure and disease, then we can do something about it. But now we are throwing money at disabilities that are not associated and not caused by veterans' exposure to this herbicide.

I ask, given where we are in this country and the fact that we are going to have a tough time funding veterans programs in the future anyway, that we ought not spend a dollar on something that is not directly caused by a veteran's exposure to Agent Orange so that we have that dollar to pay for those who truly were exposed and truly have a disability.

I yield back to the Senator from Arizona.

Mr. McCAIN. I thank the Senator from Oklahoma. I ask him, I have heard anecdotally the eligibility for disability under the guidelines as issued by the Secretary of the Army--and, by the way, we are talking about $40-some billion additional of taxpayers' money. I think that should be the subject of legislative action rather than a decision made by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Is it not true that, anecdotally, we have heard that people who were in the Korean war and not the Vietnam war have somehow become eligible? And people who were on ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, not anywhere near Agent Orange, have also been declared eligible?

Mr. COBURN. They are eligible, and there are some reasons for that. But that is not what this debate is about. We are not questioning it. We are just saying on this basis we are not using science how we have used it in every other aspect of veterans' disability. Now we are going beyond science.

When we look at the total number of studies, rarely 3 percent or so show any association, and association does not imply any causation. So we have the Secretary who has made a decision to commit this country to $42 billion of additional expenditures not based on sound science but the fact that he can do that, and that is what I think is wrong. If the veterans committee thinks there is the science to do that, they should bring a bill to the floor and do that. But the science is not there. I have looked at it. I have read it. It is not there.

The Institute of Medicine says it is not there, and they say disability ought to be based on causation, not on association.

Mr. McCAIN. Madam President, I yield the floor.

Mr. JOHNSON of South Dakota. Madam President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

Mrs. BOXER. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

AMENDMENT NO. 577, AS MODIFIED

Mrs. BOXER. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that Boxer amendment No. 577 be modified with the changes that are already at the desk.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection? Without objection, it is so ordered.

The amendment (No. 577), as modified, is as follows:

At the appropriate place, add the following:

SEC. __. No later than 90 days after enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall report to the Congressional Defense Committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives on the status and improvement plan for all DODEA schools with an overall condition rating of Q3 (poor) or Q4 (failing) as identified in the October 2009 Report to Congress on Department of Defense Education Activity's Military Construction Program.

Mrs. BOXER. I suggest the absence of a quorum.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

Mr. JOHNSON of South Dakota. I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. JOHNSON of South Dakota. I thank the Chair.

AMENDMENT NO. 575

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Under the previous order, the question is on agreeing to amendment No. 575.

The amendment (No. 575) was agreed to.

AMENDMENT NO. 577, AS MODIFIED

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Under the previous order, the question is on agreeing to the Boxer amendment No. 577, as modified.

The amendment (No. 577), as modified, was agreed to.

AMENDMENT NO. 564

The PRESIDING OFFICER. There will now be 2 minutes of debate equally divided on the Coburn amendment.

The Senator from Oklahoma.

Mr. COBURN. This is a commonsense amendment that will secure this for veterans and make sure we are not paying for disabilities for those who are not truly service connected, that are not based on science or causation. I know it is a tough vote, but in the environment we face today we ought to be using science to positively connect causality with any disability we grant.

With that, I reserve the remainder of my time.

Mrs. MURRAY. So my colleagues know, there is a reason we have made this type of compensation like Agent Orange presumptive. It is because our military did a miserable job of tracking these exposures, and it is because no veteran will ever be able to go to a map and tell you with certainty where they were exposed. No veteran will tell you what and how much of this poison Agent Orange they inhaled. So we have to look at the facts with reason and compassion, and in this case on the one hand we have the knowledge that we sprayed a known killer throughout the area where a number of these veterans were serving.

We have had thousands of veterans who have come forward and believe their cancers and ailments were caused by that exposure. We have studies that show veterans exposed to Agent Orange are more likely to have heart disease, cancer, and other conditions. We have the Institute of Medicine which has recommended giving these veterans the benefit of the doubt, and we have the Secretary of Veterans Affairs who has decided we need to move forward to provide compensation.

On the other hand, you have an amendment today--while it makes a compelling case for saving money, it hasn't presented any evidence at all that Agent Orange did not cause the conditions faced by these Vietnam veterans coming forward. An amendment that asks our veterans to wait longer? That is something they have already done too much of. They have been waiting and getting sicker. They have been dying for 40 years or more. We should not ask them to wait longer.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator's time has expired.

Mrs. MURRAY. I thank the Chair. I urge my colleagues to vote to table this amendment. And if the Senator wants to finish his remarks, I will move to table when he is finished.

Mr. COBURN. I wish to make one point. The Institute of Medicine did not recommend this. As a matter of fact, their recommendation was that causality ought to be the only way in which we would do this.

I would ask for the yeas and nays on the amendment.

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