THE LATEST DELAY in providing disability benefits for “blue water” Navy veterans, so called because they served in the waters around Vietnam, seems unnecessary and cruel after decades of inaction, a court victory and a long overdue act of Congress.
Just when these veterans, who suffer health problems related to exposure to Agent Orange, thought they had won their long struggle to get the same benefits as veterans who had boots on the ground in Vietnam, the Department of Veterans Affairs said it won’t start processing their claims until next year.
It is abhorrent that veterans who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam were so long denied eligibility for Agent Orange-related benefits. But Congress finally passed a bill ordering the VA to treat the blue water veterans equally, and President Donald Trump signed the bill into law.
Now comes this unconscionable and unnecessary new delay.
A lot of wrongs are involved, starting with the United States using Agent Orange to clear Vietnamese jungles without understanding its effects on U.S. troops. Those include sometimes fatal illnesses such as cancer, respiratory ailments, Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes and leukemia, and spina bifida in children born to affected parents.
As evidence of the link between Agent Orange exposure and veterans’ illnesses grew, Congress passed a 1991 law mandating that such problems be treated as the result of service in war, with appropriate benefits.
But the VA used a loophole in the law to exclude the thousands of sailors who were on ships just off Vietnam, and Marines on board the ships.