In an article by William R. Levesque, he writes that a bill in Congress provides a seemingly straightforward answer to a question that has vexed tens of thousands of Americans who served in the U.S. military.
Who is a Vietnam veteran?
The answer is vitally important to Navy personnel who served in Vietnam’s territorial waters. For now, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs definition of a Vietnam veteran does not include these men and women.
Legislation introduced in the House would change that, clearing the way for Navy veterans to get disability payments and free health care for ailments linked to the herbicide Agent Orange, from type II diabetes to a variety of cancers.
$3 Billion in benefits is at stake:
The VA says the pool of veterans who would become eligible for benefits under the bill is 800,000, a number crtics accuse the VA of exaggerating to inflate costs that may scare Congress.
“They have no respect for Navy veterans,” said Virgil Anderson, 63, a Navy veteran with diabetes who has a June VA hearing in St. Petersburg, Florida, to appeal a denial of benefits. Before 2002, sailors with the Vietnam Service Medal given to those who served in the theater of war on land or sea automatically got benefits, whether they were ground troops or in the Navy.
But the VA changed its policy in 2002, saying common sense dictated that Agent Orange was used on land alone and therefore couldn’t harm Navy personnel. The VA has argued it was not the intent of Congress to include the Navy when it adopted a law in 1991 providing compensation for Agent Orange.
Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, has introduced legislation to include Navy veterans. He has more than 40 co-sponsors. “These guys have suffered long enough,” Filner said. “It’s going to cost money. But that’s the cost of going to war. We’re spending trillions bailing out everybody else. Let’s bail out Vietnam veterans.”
The chances for passage are uncertain. Filner said lawmakers may be reluctant to add costs to the federal budget in an economic crisis. A smiliar bill introduced last year failed.
The U.S. military sprayed 20 million gallons of the herbicide Agent Orange in Vietnam to remove foliage that provided cover to enemy fighters. It might seem counterintuitive that veterans who served on ships would claim exposure to an herbicide used only on land. But reality, Navy veterans say is far more complicated.
Many Navy veterans say they often went ashore or their ships transported barrels of Agent Orange. Also, ships secured drinking water by distilling saltwater, and a study by Australian scientists said the dioxin in Agent Orange could not be eliminated by ship filtration systems and provided a likely source of contamination to sailors.
It’s interesting to note, that Australia does provide Agent Orange benefits to its Navy veterans.
(This information comes from William R. Levesque, a staff writer for the St. Petersburg Times. Published June 8th, 2009.)
Upon further reading, I found this quote by Congressman Filner. “Time is running out for these veterans. Many are dying from their Agent Orange related diseases, uncompensated for their sacrifice. There is still a chance for America to meet its obligations to these noble veterans. I will work with my colleagues in Congress, to provide disability benefits and health care to the thousands of Navy blue water veterans and their survivors that earned this care in battle.”
To read more on what Congressman Filner is doing for veterans, go to:
My next posting will provide an update on this important subject.