Twelve "Blue Water Navy" Vietnam veterans have died since the Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie issued a stay on processing their Agent Orange disability claims.
On Friday, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in a lawsuit filed by a veterans nonprofit group, Military Veterans Advocacy Inc. (MVA), asking that the delay on processing those claims ends. The delay affects more than 400,000 veterans or surviving family members who could be eligible for benefits, according to VA.
"I think we won a strategic victory," MVA Executive Director John Wells told Connecting Vets after the hearing.
Wells feels confident that, at the very least, VA will not be able to extend the stay past the original date of Jan. 1. However, there's a possibility that a decision comes back from the court ending the stay even earlier.
"We'll have to wait until the decision comes out, but I think if nothing else we've prevented the secretary from going past January 1st," Wells said. "From our point of view that would be the worst possible outcome. It might be better but we think that would be the minimum that we would get."
Wells and MVA are optimistic — and sensed that the courts were frustrated with VA much like the veterans are.
"We felt the court had pretty much lost patience with the VA," Wells said. "We also felt they were very concerned because Mr. Procopio had been granted his benefits by that same court back in January and still hadn't received his benefits. The judges did not seem very happy about that."