The first legislation attempting to re-admit offshore participants of the Vietnam War back under their original coverage by the Agent Orange Act of 1991 was introduced by Representatives Bob Filner and John Hall in July, 2008 when they hosted a gathering on a patio of the Cannon Building. Bill HR-6562 died in Congress because there was no time to fully develop it prior to the close of the 110th Congress. The role it played, however, was to lay the ground work for its re-introduction in the 111th Congress, which opened in January, 2009. Representative Filner reintroduced this Bill as HR-2254 to the House in May, 2009 and laid the groundwork for a sister bill to be introduced in the Senate in October, 2009, as S-1939 by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. These Bills were each read from the floor, assigned their numbers and given to the respective Veteran Affairs Committees. And there they sat.
HR-2254 ultimately had 261 House co- sponsors, which means 261 Representatives of the People heard enough information and received enough requests regarding HR-2254 that they were willing, on behalf of their constituents, to sign their names in support of passing the bill before it was even brought out of Committee. Having 261 Representatives willing to co-sponsor a Bill indicates this was a very popular legislation. S-1939 in the Senate had 19 cosponsors, which is a fair start. All these people who pre-signed this Bill, the Agent Orange Equity Act, did „the right thing‟ by showing their support for a dying group of veterans – those who served in the offshore waters of Vietnam between 1962 and 1975.
The Bottom Line Up Front
Let me make my bottom line position perfectly clear right off the top. These veterans are sick and dying because they were inadvertently poisoned by a chemical warfare agent used by their own country. A majority of the offshore veterans have already died without even knowing that, between 1991 and 2002, they were eligible for free medical care from the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), as were all other Vietnam veterans. They were also all eligible for monetary compensation which would help them make up for lost income based on the severity of their disability. These benefits were available to all veterans of the Vietnam War and the probability that they were exposed to the most horrific chemical compounds ever used in wartime was so great that, in 1991, Congress made it a law that everyone who served in the Vietnam War was presumed to have been exposed. And as soon as they exhibited symptoms of specific diseases, they would receive these veteran benefits.
When veterans who served offshore Vietnam were removed from eligibility for these basic, humanitarian benefits, a secondary atrocity of the Vietnam War was committed. These veterans, mortally wounded by their own government, were given yet another unconscionable blow to their basic dignity. Based on nothing more than the whim of DVA and Executive Branch career politicians, many who had never served this country in uniform, much less served in the Vietnam War, offshore combat and support personnel were suddenly denied these basic benefits while all other Vietnam veterans who served on land continued to receive this necessary, life-prolonging care.
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