WASHINGTON -- The House has ended a decade-long deadlock with the passage of a bill to guarantee compensation for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
Iraq's threat to use non-conventional weapons in the gulf helped spur yesterday's 412-0 House vote. The Senate was expected to pass the bill today.
Shortly after the gulf war began, opponents of government benefits in Agent Orange cases yielded to pressure from veterans' advocates to expand protection for diseases attributed to the widely used jungle defoliant, which has been linked to some forms of cancer.
Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., a leading congressional advocate, said the Agent Orange measure would establish a process for deciding claims pressed by American military personnel exposed to possible chemical or biological substances used against U.S.-led forces by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"Anybody looking at this issue has to conclude that we may be in the same situation with a whole new generation of veterans in a matter of months," said Daschle.
The administration backs the measure, in part because it codifies into law the existing standards of the Department of Veterans' Affairs.
Under the legislation, Vietnam veterans who suffer from two forms of cancer -- non-Hodgkins' lymphoma and soft-tissue sarcoma -- would be entitled to permanent disability benefits for themselves or their survivors.