The folks from Military-Veterans Advocacy scored a big win this week for Blue Water veterans that reinstates Agent Orange benefits previously revoked by Secretary of Veterans Affairs in 1991.
The House of Representatives unanimously voted 382-0 to provide Agent Orange benefits to an estimated 90,000 sailors previously ineligible for certain presumptions of exposure to Agency Orange related herbicide toxins.
Those sailors suffered from conditions like respiratory cancers, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, and other residuals from exposure to a toxin called dioxin. The veteran impacted served on aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and other ships off the coast of Vietnam.
Toxins from the spraying of Agent Orange made their way into open waterways referred to as “blue water.” Previously, these veterans were ineligible for presumptive service connection, but the new law may allow them a chance at receiving desperately needed monetary and health-related benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Congressional Budget Office projects the cost of the legislation at $1.1 billion over the next 10 years. The funding comes from an increase in the cost of using the VA Home Loan for non-disabled veterans using that benefit.
Below in italics is the press release about the legislation from Attorney John Wells, one of the key players in pushing for benefits for this population of veterans.
Blue Water Veterans Press Release
The United States House of Representatives tonight passed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act 382-0, partially restoring the presumption of Agent Orange exposure to those who served on ships in the bays, harbors and territorial seas of South Vietnam.
Retired Navy Commander John B. Wells, Executive Director of the Louisiana-based Military-Veterans Advocacy was the author of the original bill. First introduced in 2011, the bill was mired in Committee for several Congresses.
The presumption of exposure was afforded by the Agent Orange Act of 1991, but was stripped from those who had served offshore by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Hydrological and other studies showed that Agent Orange dioxin made its way into the rivers and harbors, and was enriched by the ships’ evaporation distillation system, causing significant exposure to those serving aboard ships.
Wells, who led the fight for passage, praised House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe of Tennessee for promoting the bill.
“Chairman Roe became convinced of the necessity for this bill,” said Wells. “I met with him informally on several occasions and he made this bill a priority.”
The bill was reported favorably by a unanimous vote of the House Veterans Affairs Committee on May 8, 2018.
“There is no doubt that without the efforts of Chairman Roe, this bill would have not passed the House,” Wells continued. “Despite significant bipartisan support, the cost of the bill kept it bottled up in Committee.”
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has projected the cost of the bill at [$1.1 billion] over 10 years. It is being funded by small increases in the VA home loan guarantee fees paid by non-disabled veterans. The bill had 330 co-sponsors in the House.
Wells also praised the efforts of Mrs. Susie Belanger of Gansevoort, New York, who is credited with starting the grassroots movement to bolster support.
“Susie is the heart and soul of this effort,” Wells indicated. “Her husband was initially denied benefits. Although that decision was later reversed when he proved that he actually touched land in Vietnam, she was horrified that so many sailors were being denied.” Belanger established an e-mail network that later expanded to social media. “She drafted me!” Wells admitted. “Without her there would have been no Military-Veterans Advocacy and no Blue Water Navy bill. She is a great lady who has proven that one person can change things for the better.”
The bill also includes benefits for veterans who served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone and children of Thailand veterans suffering from spina bifida.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where Wells anticipates little opposition. The White House has signaled an intent to sign the bill once passed.
Both Wells and Belanger are in Washington and available for interviews.