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.
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.