This was a vote on a motion to table (kill) an amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) that would have required veterans receiving disability payments for illnesses associated with Agent Orange to prove that Agent Orange was the cause of their medical condition. (Agent Orange is an herbicide that was used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.) This amendment was offered to legislation that would provide annual funding for veterans’ programs and military base construction in fiscal year 2012.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) supported Coburn’s amendment: “There were many of our men and women who were serving in the conflict in Vietnam who were exposed to Agent Orange, but there were many more who were not. I don't think one can make a case that someone who was stationed on a ship in the Gulf of Tonkin and was many miles from any Agent Orange, that one could make a plausible case that Agent Orange was the cause of this disability….There are many needs amongst our veterans. They are there every single day. The purpose of this amendment is to make sure there is a legitimate need for compensation for those who were exposed to Agent Orange and a direct connection between that exposure and certain disabilities, particularly heart disease, Parkinson's disease, Hodgkin's, et cetera. What we are trying to do is make sure those who were actually exposed, and there is a direct connection, are rewarded, and adequately so, but at the same time not have a situation where it is an open-ended expenditure of taxpayers' dollars.”
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) opposed this amendment: “…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 Senate tabled this amendment by a vote of 69-30. All 53 Democrats and 16 Republicans voted “yea” (in favor of killing the amendment). 30 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the Senate rejected an amendment that would have required veterans receiving disability payments for illnesses associated with Agent Orange to prove that Agent Orange was the cause of their medical condition.