a suit filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., two veteran’s
organizations have filed suit against the Secretary of Veterans Affairs,
Eric Shinseki, for failing to provide benefits to Vietnam War veterans
who served aboard ship off the coast of Vietnam.
Over 100,000 of
Blue Water veterans were exposed to Agent Orange through their drinking
water while providing gunfire support, air support and logistic support
in the territorial seas off the coast of Vietnam.
The Blue Water
Navy Vietnam Veterans Association (BWNVVA), a nonprofit corporation
chartered to advance the cause of the Blue Water Navy veterans, along
with Military-Veterans Advocacy (MVA) another nonprofit that advocated
for veterans, filed the suit charging that the secretary ignored
scientific evidence, which showed the presence of Agent Orange in the
waters off shore.
Attorney John Wells, who brought the suit, is a retired Navy Commander and served as chief engineer on three Navy ships.
“I am very familiar with the naval operations at the time and the distillation equipment that enriched the dioxin.” Wells said.
have taken this evidence to two separate committees of the Institute of
Medicine, and they agree that the distillation process would have
co-distilled and enriched the dioxin.”
John Paul Rossie, a
retired Information Technology expert, served in the Navy off the coast
of Vietnam. Rossie has served the BWNVVA since its inception as
He said, “Sea service personnel operating in the war zone were given a straight shot of Agent Orange into their drinking water.”
Rossie continued, “Now they are dying and leaving their families without the VA compensation that they earned.”
Prior to 2002, the Blue Water Navy veterans were granted the presumption of exposure.
was rescinded based on a 1997 VA General Counsel. Australia, an
American ally in Vietnam, has granted benefits to their naval personnel
The Blue Water Navy veterans won a restoration in benefits from the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in 2006.
That was set aside by the United States Court for the Federal Circuit in 2008.
noted, “We are not attacking the lack of rulemaking as was the case in
the previous suit, but we are showing that the Secretary’s decision was
arbitrary and capricious, unsupported by substantial evidence and in
violation of existing law.”
What the VA either did not know or
intentionally ignored is the 1958 Convention on the Territorial Seas and
the Contiguous Zone, which the United States has signed and ratified,
includes bays and harbors as inland waterways.
“We are heartened
by the bi-partisan support of this bill,” Rossie said, “but despite the
support, it is still stalled in Committee.
So while we are continuing to gather support in Congress, we felt the need to also move forward in court.
Our people are dropping like flies and we need to try any avenue we can to obtain these benefits.”