The MN Political Roundtable has written many commentaries advocating for veterans health care as they, and their families, confront the impacts of Agent Orange … and with President Trump mantra — “I don’t think anybody’s been more with the military than I” — and a Republican-controlled Congress, this was the 115th Congress that would provide Blue Water Vietnam Navy veterans their answer they deserved.
During the Vietnam War, more than 20 million gallons of the herbicide “Agent Orange” was sprayed to remove jungle foliage. A toxic chemical in the herbicide, dioxin, was been linked to devastating health effects, including non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, prostate and other cancers, Type II Diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease. The Agent Orange Act of 1991 was enacted that empowered the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to declare certain illnesses “presumptive” to exposure to Agent Orange and enabled Vietnam veterans to receive disability compensation for these related conditions. However, in 2002, the VA limited the scope of the Act to only those veterans who could provide orders for “boots on the ground” in Vietnam. Boots on the ground encompassed infantry and the “brown water” navy (inland river). As a result, veterans who served in the waters off the coast of Vietnam, commonly called “blue water veterans“, were excluded.
Sad Fact : Did you know that the VA lists 19 birth defects for children born to female Vietnam veterans?
Sad Fact : A bipartisan group of legislators tried to correct … this offering bills every term … including H.R. 3612, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2011.
Why no action ? Simple … healthcare costs money … and some fiscal conservatives are concerned about our national debt.
So to assuage those concerns, the House found a “pay-for” when it passed H. R. 299 — they raised VA home loan fees. Not exactly, the best answer to ask other veterans to pay for the healthcare of veterans who suffered from their military service, but that’s what the House wanted.
So, all that was left was for the Senate to agree to the House version … or pass its own version, S. 422 with a different “pay-for”.
But efforts failed as Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) was one of several senators who objected, “On this bill, many of us have been made aware of the potential cost growth and the budgetary and operational pressures that would happen at the VA. They’re having a lot of problems, anyway.”
Various veterans and groups tweeted President Trump for him to intercede … but no success.
On December 19th, another attempt was made to allow a vote but Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) objected, saying “as members of this body, it’s also our duty to ensure that it’s done in a prudent and proper way, with all the relevant information available to us.”
During the debate, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) “I can pledge to you if we fail to do it this session, we will be back again next session. And the cost to our conscience, if not our budget, will rise in the meantime”.
The problem is the cost … CBO estimates that enacting the bill would increase direct spending for those programs by almost $1.2 billion over the 2019‑2028 period.
A lot of money … but that is over a ten year period … and it’s provide healthcare for our veterans (and their impacted children).
Yeah, it is the cost to our conscience.
So, Senators Enzi and Lee, acting as fiscal conservatives won. The term of the 115th Congress is essentially over … unless someone calls the Senate back into session with a solution to the Trump Shutdown.
Yeah … the Trump Shutdown … not to address veterans healthcare but instead to build a wall. And the Republicans have a bill to do that … H.R. 7059, the ‘Build the Wall, Enforce the Law Act of 2018‘. Cost $23.4 billion … and that is exempt from funding from ordinarily imposed by the Pay-as-You-Go Act of 2010. In short, that means American taxpayers will be paying for it … not today in tax reform but instead just added onto the national debt. Surely, the fiscal conservatives would be alarmed … right ? Surely, Senators Enzi and Lee will say NO to Trump’s Wall … right ?
So no help for our veterans from President Trump or Senators Enzi and Lee, but Senator Blumenthal offers a different response
I will donate all my Senate pay to Homes For The Brave (@ABRI_HFTB), a charity doing so much for CT veterans, as long as the #TrumpShutdown lasts—recognizing the sacrifices of all Americans, especially dedicated (unpaid) federal workers.— Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) December 23, 2018