Bill reintroduced to expand coverage for veterans exposed to Agent Orange

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Expansion of Agent Orange-related benefits

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Steve Daines (R-MT) introduced a measure March 9 that would direct the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide disability and health care benefits to Vietnam War veterans harmed by Agent Orange from aircraft carriers, destroyers and other Navy vessels.

In 1991, Congress passed the Agent Orange Act, creating a presumption that veterans are eligible for benefits if they develop certain illnesses which the Institute of Medicine determines are the result of exposure to Agent Orange.

The VA determined in 2002, however, that these benefits are only for veterans who provided “boots on the ground” during the conflict.

Under the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015, the same presumption would apply if they served in the “territorial seas” of Vietnam, defined as approximately 12 miles offshore of the country.

“Hundreds of Thousands of our veterans are being denied benefits they need and deserve because of a technicality in the law,” Sen. Gillibrand said in a news release. “We owe it to the veterans who bravely served our country and have fallen victim to Agent Orange-related disease to enact this legislation that will provide the disability compensation and healthcare benefits they have earned.

“Agent Orange is a very difficult chapter in our nation’s history and is past due that we correct the errors of the past.”

In 2011, the year the bill was first introduced, the Institute of Medicine found that thousands of veterans likely came into contact with Agent Orange as a result of the water distillation process used in the Navy ships and through the air, according to the news release.

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed the country with approximately 20 million gallons of Agent Orange.

The herbicide contained doxin, a toxic chemical that has since been linked to cancer, liver dysfunction, neurological dysfunction, psychiatric problems, joint pain, muscle spasms, chronic fatigue and genetic damage, among other impairments.

Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY) introduced a similar bill in the House of Representatives on February 13, with the support of 131 cosponsors.

The introduction of the bill came the same week that the VA again delayed making a decision on whether disability benefits should be available to Air Force reservists who may have been exposed to Agent Orange when flying the C-123 aircraft, which was used to spray the herbicide, according to the Stars and Stripes.

In January, the Institute of Medicine released a report finding that veterans “quite likely experienced non-trivial increases in their risks of adverse health outcomes” due to Agent Orange exposure in the aircrafts.

3 thoughts on “Bill reintroduced to expand coverage for veterans exposed to Agent Orange

  1. Edwin Jeter says:

    Hope this situation is resolved soon. I think steps in the right direction are being taken.

  2. Mike Yates says:

    For Immediate Release
    Wednesday, June 24, 2015
    PROGRESS MADE FOR NAVY VETERANS OF VIETNAM WAR, MEETING WITH VA SECRETARY SCHEDULED
    In the wake of the Veterans Administration decision to grant benefits to the C-123 pilots and crew for exposure to Agent Orange, focus has shifted to the Blue Water Navy veterans and pending federal legislation to remedy a flaw in VA policy. Legislation introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, [D-NY], along with Sen Steve Daines [R-MT] is scheduled for a “mark-up” hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on July 14.
    In another development, VA Deputy Secretary Sloane Gibson has agreed to meet with Military-Veterans Advocacy Executive Director, Commander John B. Wells, USN (Retired), on July 6. This meeting will involve a full-blown discussion on the Blue Water Navy issue ahead of the July 14 hearing. Discussions will center around the viability of the VA’s “boots on the ground” policy, which has mandated that only servicemen and women who served on land are eligible for Agent Orange benefits. Military-Veterans Advocacy has argued in court and before Congress that the presumption of exposure should extend to the territorial seas.
    The VA has also indicated that it does not intend to appeal the Court of Appeals for Veterans claims decision in Gray v. MacDonald. In that case, the court found the exclusion of bays and harbors from the presumption of exposure was arbitrary and capricious and ordered the VA to revisit its regulations. The decision to forego an appeal suggests the VA will re-write regulations regarding bays and harbors within the Republic of Vietnam.
    Companion legislation in the House of Representatives, introduced by Congressman Chris Gibson [R NY], continues to draw increased interest. Currently, 230 members of the House have signed on to the bill as co-sponsors.
    Military-Veterans Advocacy is a Louisiana-based non-profit that advocates in Congress and in the courts on matters concerning members of the armed forces and military veterans. Cdr. Wells is a retired U. S. Navy surface warfare officer and an attorney whose practice emphasizes Military and Veterans law.
    In a statement, Wells stated that he views “The upcoming meeting with Secretary Gibson is a great step forward for all veterans,” Wells said. “We intend to assist the VA in a positive way to resolve all coverage questions with the Blue Water Navy and other victims of toxic exposure.”
    The issue is broader than Agent Orange.
    “We need to take care of our veterans,” Wells said. “These men and women have put their lives on the line to defend this country. We as a nation need to take care of them. For too long the VA has been concerned with bureaucracy rather than benefits. The agreement to provide coverage for the C-123 veterans was a step in the right direction. We hope to continue this progress with the Blue Water Navy and other veterans who have been improperly denied benefits.”
    For more information, visit http://www.MilitaryVeteransAdvocacy.org and find the organization on Facebook.
    ###
    Media Contact
    James Hartman
    (504) 458-4600
    james@jameshartman.net

  3. Larry Hines says:

    Hope it passes and that the VA follows the intent of the law. In 2011 I submitted a claim due to Agent Orange exposure resulting in, among other things, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Sjogren”s Syndrome, bilateral Carpal Tunnel and Kidney stones(infections). For each symptom the VA found that as a “brown water” Navy member. “exposure is conceded.” I provided medical evidence (statements from respective MDs) for all four symptoms. The Carl Vinson VA Medical Center supported my claim, based on the kidney infections. However, for each symptom the final VA conclusion was, “the evidence does not show this condition was treated in service” and “VA has not found a positive association between the condition and such exposure.” I thought that that was the point…symptoms don’t appear until later in life. Perhaps my symptoms are just coincidental; however, my father lived to 94 years of age without any of the symptoms, my mother to 86 without any and neither of my siblings have any of these symptoms. Go figure.

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