90,000 Blue Water vets need help … and 133 Republicans and 171 Democrats have signed onto H.R.969 : Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015 (so named to set the sailors apart from their Brown Water Navy counterparts, who patrolled the murky rivers of South Vietnam)
Sadly, Speaker Paul Ryan, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Armed Service Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry and House Veterans Committee Chairman Jeff Miller have not … nor have Minnesotans Tom Emmer, John Kline and Erik Paulsen (even though the other five Members of the Minnesota delegation have.)
So, even though 305 Members support the bill, the power of leadership’s gavel is preventing action.
Here’s a little background on the bill and the need for it.
To find the enemy during the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed lush jungles with herbicides killing vegetation and denying enemy cover. The 55-gallon drums containing the toxic chemical dioxin, had color-coded bands with “Agent Orange” used most extensively.
It is estimated that between 1962 and 1971, almost 11 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed.
In 1977, the first claims of Agent Orange exposure started to hit the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In 1978, the VA began a registry program to examine the health patterns of Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
In 1991, Congress passed the Agent Orange Act (AOA) to help veterans receive compensation to those who were exposed to the harmful chemical cocktail Agent Orange. The Agent Orange Act established a presumption of service connection for diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure and directed the VA to contract with National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to periodically research and review diseases that might be associated with Agent Orange exposure.
The burden is on the veteran to provide evidence of service connection to their illness when applying for benefits.
In 2002, the VA excluded thousands of “Blue Water” Navy vets — vets who served right off the coast — from receiving any benefits — because they hadn’t served on land, the VA tried to say we were unlikely to suffer the effects of Agent Orange poisoning.
Conversely, the VA did extended benefits to Air Force crew members who flew in C-123s after they had been used in Vietnam to spray the toxic cocktail.
The VA officially recognizes 50 diseases connected to Agent Orange exposure. Some examples include Hodgkin’s disease, Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease and 38 forms of cancer.
The VA has also acknowledged that Agent Orange exposure could cause Spina Bifida in Vietnam veterans and their children. The VA also lists 18 other birth defects for children born to female Vietnam veterans.
Shockingly in 2015, the DoNothing Republican-controlled House allowed the Agent Orange Act to lapse.
While proposals are being considered to renewing the Act (HR 3423 has bipartisan support including Minnesotans Emmer, McCollum, Nolan, Peterson and Walz), there is an ongoing question of who should be eligible for the program.
Ya gotta question the House’s inaction … especially when a 2011 study by the National Institute of Medicine found that Blue Water veterans could have been exposed in multiple ways, including via the ships’ water distillation system and through the air. Experts have said the distillation process could have actually concentrated the Agent Orange.
The National Institute of Medicine also stated, “Given the available evidence, the committee recommends that members of the Blue Water Navy should not be excluded from the set of Vietnam-era veterans with presumed herbicide exposure.”
H.R.969, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would change that (while H.R. 3423, the Agent Orange Extension Act would extend the old program for two more years.)
Both bills need action … and need support of the Republicans that control the House … John Kline, Erik Paulsen and Tom Emmer.
BTW, the Senate has a bipartisan companion bill — S. 681 sponsored by both Minnesota Senators.
The best way for Congress to tell us they support Veterans is to pass Agent Orange legislation … as to should the candidates opting to replace Representatives Emmer, Kline and Paulsen.