Thursday, September 10, 2015

Denying Agent Orange benefits to Vietnam vets - The VA is wrong to exclude blue-water ship personnel
There has been much publicity about recent Veterans Affairs (VA) bureaucrats manipulating data, the destruction of claim documents and other mismanagement that adversely affects the treatment of our dedicated veterans. However, these scandals pale in comparison to the VA’s arbitrary decision in 2002, with a basis in fact, to refuse benefits to U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange while serving in blue-water ships off the coast of Vietnam from 1962 to 1975.

The VA has chosen to ignore the congressionally mandated benefits for those veterans as outlined in the Agent Orange Act of 1991. Consequently, tens of thousands of Navy and Marine Corps veterans who have died or are dying from cancer and other deadly diseases contracted as a result of being exposed to Agent Orange have been cast side.
If the VA had just continued to implement the congressionally mandated 1991 Agent Orange Act, there would be no problem. The act specifically declared that any veteran who served on active duty in the Republic of Vietnam from 1962 to 1975 and has a disease attributed to Agent Orange dioxins would be “presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange and eligible for service connected medical treatment and disability benefits.” The act applied to all veterans who earned the Vietnam Service Medal. This included all veterans who served on land; those who served in small craft on inland waterways (the brown-water Navy); and those who served on ships operating in harbors, bays or off the coast of Vietnam (the blue-water Navy) in the South China Sea.
Initially, Veterans Affairs properly executed the act by declaring that any Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard veteran who had earned the Vietnam Service Medal was presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange and, therefore, eligible for treatment and benefits as necessary. However, for the past 13-plus years, the VA has limited Agent Orange-related benefits to only those who served “in country.” This arbitrary decision ignores abundant evidence that exposure to Agent Orange is seriously impacting those who served on Navy ships and who came into harbors, bays and within the territorial waters of Vietnam as well as further offshore.
There is no denying that U.S. military forces sprayed more than 20 million gallons of toxic herbicide and defoliants in Vietnam from 1962 to1971. The most common of these herbicides was known as Agent Orange, which contained high levels of Tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD) — one of the most deadly dioxins ever synthesized — causing cancers and other deadly diseases in humans. These deadly dioxins contaminated the land, rivers, harbors and bays, and were blown by prevailing winds far out to sea, where they were ingested by those on Navy ships.

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