Congress to consider legislation that would increase list to include Blue Water Navy Vietnam vets.
By Craig Roberts - August 28, 2011
Very soon, says Louisiana attorney John Wells, a New York senator will be introducing a short and simple bill into Congress that could have a large and far-reaching effect on tens of thousands of Vietnam War veterans and their families. The proposed law would extend the presumption of exposure to Agent Orange to certain service members who served aboard vessels at sea - the so-called Blue Water Navy - during the Vietnam War. As the law now stands, only troops who served ashore "in country" or aboard river boats in Vietnam are entitled to compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs for a number of ailments, including cancer, linked to exposure to the toxic herbicide.
Wells, a retired Navy Commander, is the director of legal and legislative affairs for the Blue Water Vietnam Veterans Association. He spoke of the proposed legislation at a meeting of The American Legion's National Legislative Commission during the organization's 93rd annual National Convention in Minneapolis. Wells explained the bill - "The Agent Orange Equity Act of 2011" - by reciting the "elevator speech" he employs to educate members of Congress during his periodic trips to Washington.
"Our association is trying to extend the exposure presumption for Agent Orange from the current ‘boots on the ground' to at least the territorial seas of the Republic of Vietnam," he said. "This would encompass the ships that were outside of the riverines but were actually very close to shore providing support to the troops ashore.
"What happened was that we would get a discharge of sediment that contained Agent Orange out into the South China Sea. (Ships there) would then bring the sediment into their distilling systems that changed salt water into potable water and the sailors would drink it. The Australians discovered back in 2002 that the Agent Orange in the salt water was actually co-distilled - not removed. So, these folks were drinking an enhanced Agent Orange cocktail, as it were. This was confirmed in an Institute of Medicine report that came out just this past May. The Institute of Medicine also found that there was a plausible pathway both by wind drift and by river discharges for Agent Orange to get into the South China Sea. As a result, we have a higher cancer incidence (among those ship's crew members theoretically exposed) than those troops who were ashore. The Australians, who have been paying Agent Orange-related benefits to their Blue Water Navy sailors for years, proved that in a study back in 2005."
Wells said he ends his short presentation with an appeal to his target member of Congress to support the bill. One who was impressed by his organization's argument was U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. She is expected to introduce "The Agent Orange Equity Act of 2011" shortly after Congress reconvenes in September. Wells said the bill has drawn bipartisan support from several co-sponsors.