After a long argument, Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs opted to grant benefits to Navy veterans whose ship duties during the Vietnam War might have exposed them to agent orange. The job of administering benefits fell to the Veterans Benefits Administration. Visiting Federal Drive with Tom Temin in studio to explain a program that got underway last month, the VA undersecretary for veterans benefits, Dr. Paul Lawrence.
Dr. Paul Lawrence: The president, on June 25th of last year signed the Blue Water Navy Act Vietnam Veterans Act to provide Agent Orange benefits to those folks who had been in the blue waters 12 nautical miles off the shore of Vietnam during the conflict. So if you’ve been exposed to Agent Orange and you have some of the conditions, now you can have access to both health care and benefits. So it resolves a long running dispute. What exactly was the Republic of Vietnam? The interesting thing about this law was once it was signed, the Secretary was allowed to stay it, pause it for six months while we got ready so that we could be ready on January 1st. There was a great deal of concern that wouldn’t be ready. But we were ready and we began granting on January 1st. We’ve been doing that now for a little more than six weeks. We’ve gotten about 18,000 claims. We’ve granted about 1000. You know, survivors benefits is real important. As you could imagine, a lot of veterans from Vietnam are older. They may have passed, for conditions perhaps. Their families can apply for benefits.
Tom Temin: I want to get to some of the issues concerned with how long ago that was. But before we do, is this anyone who can prove they were in the Blue Water Navy in ships that carried this material back and forth? Is that all that’s needed to be able to get these benefits.
Dr. Paul Lawrence: We will find your ship, so the veterans don’t have to prove they were there. They have to have the conditions, and they’re listed on our website VA.gov, search blue water. You can find the conditions. If you have conditions and you were in service off there, your record shows us where you were. We’ll find the ship you were on. It’s not so much your ships carry the Agent Orange, it is that it made its way into the water, then the water made its way onto the ships. That’s the thinking.