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Heinrich backs bill on Agent Orange

New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich is backing legislation that would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide benefits for veterans suffering from four diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure.

Veterans with health conditions related to their exposure to the defoliant during the Vietnam War are currently eligible for benefits and health care from VA. But Heinrich’s office said coverage has been denied for about 190,000 veterans struggling with bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, parkinsonism and hypertension – four conditions the Democratic senator said have an association with exposure to the toxic herbicide.

The Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act of 2020 would add these illnesses to the VA’s list of service-connected presumptive conditions and provide essential benefits and care to Vietnam veterans.

“All of our veterans who put their lives on the line deserve the best possible medical care, based on the best available science,” Heinrich said, adding that he was appalled by the denial of benefits to thousands of veterans suffering from diseases related to Agent Orange.

“It is time to stop denying scientific evidence and expand the VA’s list of medical conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange,” he said.

HAALAND CALLS FOR CENSUS EXTENSION: U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., is calling for a 2020 Census extension deadline after the Census Bureau announced it would suspend field operations until April 1 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Census is vitally important to make sure New Mexico receives its fair share of resources for health care, schools and infrastructure,” said Haaland, who is a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. “Though the Census Bureau announced it will be temporarily suspending in-person outreach to keep everyone safe, everyone should know that this should not affect your ability to respond over the phone. By responding now, you will ensure that the Census Bureau does not need to send a census worker to your door … We’ll be monitoring this change, and I’m calling on the Census Bureau to extend the Census deadline so that all of our communities can be counted.”

REPS TURN TO ELECTRONIC TOWN HALLS: Haaland and U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small are using electronic town halls as a way to update constituents on the coronavirus.

Haaland held a telephone town hall last week, while Torres Small is pledging to do so in the coming weeks.

Torres Small said her office will also use social media, her website, conference calls and video conferences to keep residents informed about COVID-19.

“My office remains focused on staying connected with New Mexican families across the district and keeping them as updated as possible during this public health emergency,” she said in a statement to the Journal.

CANDIDATES SUSPEND CAMPAIGNS: Two Republican candidates for the 3rd Congressional District seat in northern New Mexico being vacated by U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luj á n have suspended their campaigns after failing to receive 20% of the vote at the state pre-primary convention on March 7.

Audra Brown announced her intentions to followers on Twitter last Tuesday.

“It’s been a wild ride, but this trail is at an end,” she posted.

Anise Golden Morper announced her intentions to suspend her campaign in a release by the state Republican Party on Tuesday.

Her petitions to qualify for the ballot were originally disqualified by New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s office, but the state Supreme Court overruled the decision.

Brown and Golden Morper could have submitted additional petitions to get on the ballot, but decided not to do so.

Scott Turner: sturner@abqjournal.com

 

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