A federal judge dismissed Navy veterans' claims to compensation for illness incurred by exposure to poisonous chemicals the U.S. Military sprayed during the Vietnam War, Courthouse News Service reports.
U.S. planes showered almost 20 million gallons of the herbicide Agent Orange over about 10,000 square miles of Vietnam in the late' 60s and early '70s. The chemical is extremely toxic, and hundreds of thousands of American veterans who served on land in Vietnam have been compensated for their poor health by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. But sailors who served at sea are ineligible for benefits, and their move for medical funding was denied in a district court.
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According to Courthouse News, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan wrote "Congress chose to shield VA benefits decisions from review or channel them into specific courts, and the court therefore has no jurisdiction to hear these claims."
Organizations of Navy veterans first sued the VA in 2013. The sailors argue that, even though they were not on land, they were exposed to Agent Orange that washed into the ocean and was sucked into their ships' drinking water purification systems.
Agent Orange is linked to at least 14 cancers and diseases, as well as birth defects. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese suffer from Agent Orange poisoning, and children are still born with severe deformations.
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Neil Carman, a chemist with the Texas Sierra Club, called Agent Orange "one of the most toxic chlorine containing chemicals ever known to science," and noted that it can poison a man's sperm. It's main use if deforestation; it was used to wipe out rainforests where North Vietnamese armies hid and to kill the crop fields that fed the communists.
"It was an environmental disaster in Vietnam," Carman said.
According to the New York Times, the Pentagon and developers of Agent Orange initially claimed the chemical was not harmful to humans. However, according to the VA, it is a recognized cause of illnesses including leukemia, diabetes, Hodgkin's Disease, lymphoma, Parkinson's Disease, prostate cancer and respiratory cancers. In Vietnam, where many communities were sprayed with the chemical, Agent Orange has caused severe mental disabilities and physical disfiguration, including people born without eyes.
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In 2010, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki expanded the list of Agent Orange claims eligible for benefits, adding new diseases to the list. Shinseki said he expected 150,000 new claims from the Vietnam era and would re-review 90,000 claims previously dismissed.
The VA commissioned a 2011 study to determine to what extent ocean Navy veterans were exposed to Agent Orange. But Judge Chutkan noted that the results are "vigorously disputed." She said she dismissed the case because her court did not have jurisdiction to evaluate the parameters set by the VA for what qualifies a veteran for benefits.