House-passed legislation aimed at getting Vietnam veterans more disability benefits would mean help for thousands who served. But for many others who say they need help, it could actually mean no benefits, veterans’ advocates say.
Supporters of “blue water” Navy veterans— mainly Vietnam War Navy personnel who say they were exposed to toxic chemicals while serving off the coast of Vietnam—disagree with House lawmakers on how to determine who qualifies for benefits.
House legislators used geographic coordinates to draw a line in the ocean around Vietnam. The bill, which the House passed by a 410 to 0 vote in mid May essentially says that if a U.S. ship operated within that line, then the veterans aboard that ship would be eligible for disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
About 80,000 “blue water” veterans would qualify for coverage, the veterans and their advocates said. The amount of benefits the veterans could get would depend on their level of disability.
John Wells, the director of the Military Veterans Advocacy group and lawyer representing the veterans, estimated that, on average, qualified veterans would receive $1,200 to $1,700 per month.
But Wells and the “blue water” veterans argue that the line drawn by the bill is too close to the mainland and could actually exclude an additional 20,000 to 50,000 veterans who served on ships beyond the line.
“This House bill is just terrible,” Wells said.