Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Opinion: VA secretary uses religious liberty to delay veterans' claims

The Department of Veterans Affairs issued a press release July 5 announcing the extension of Agent Orange claims for “Blue Water Navy” veterans.
Agent Orange was the toxic herbicide used to clear plants and trees in battle zones in
Korea and in Vietnam. Vietnam veterans who served offshore of Vietnam between Jan. 9, 1962-May 7, 1975, and veterans who served in or near the demilitarized zone in Korea from April 1, 1968-Aug. 31, 1971 are eligible for benefits.
The 2019 Blue Water Navy Veterans Act was signed into law June 25.  According to the VA press release, 420,000 to 560,000 Vietnam veterans may be considered Blue Water Navy Veterans.  The law goes into effect Jan 1.  Korean War veterans in their late 80s may not live long enough to collect these benefits.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie stated, “VA is dedicated to ensuring that all veterans receive the benefits they have earned.”  Wilkie further stated the VA will not begin to process the claims until Jan. 1 “we are working to ensure we have the proper resources in place to meet the needs of our Blue Water Veterans community and minimize the impact on all veterans filing for disability compensation.”
Wilkie fails to mention the VA denied these claims for years, and fought a bitter court battle before Congress could finally pass the bill.
Wilkie found a cause, which is of such importance, that he issued a press release on July 3 to let the public know the VA is overhauling religious and spiritual symbols to protect the religious liberty of veterans effective immediately.
The reason given for this urgent action by Wilkie is “to make sure that all our veterans and their families feel welcome at VA no matter their religious beliefs.”

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