VA Denies Compensation to Navy Vietnam Vets Exposed to Agent Orange
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Navy veterans received an all too familiar outcome on Friday when the Department of Veterans Affairs had, once more, denied compensation for groups of Vietnam vets exposed to Agent Orange during the war, according to reports from Stripes.com.
Only a limited group of Vietnam veterans qualify for VA compensation for illnesses associated with Agent Orange exposure, such as Parkinson’s Disease, diabetes, cancers an peripheral neuropathy, to name a few. Those groups include soldiers who were fighting on land as well as those who were on boats in inland rivers.
However, there is a large group of vets, approximately 90,000 Blue Water Navy veterans, who have long believed they too should be eligible for compensation. These veterans served in the waters off the coast of Vietnam. These veterans claim they were exposed to the toxin through potentially contaminated water that was sucked into the ships and distilled for drinking, showering, cooking and laundry uses. According to experts, this is a plausible claim and it is possible that the distillation process actually caused a higher concentration of Agent Orange in the water.
The report by Stipes revealed the VA would stand by their old policy claiming there is no scientific proof or legal requirement that would force them to compensate the veterans who served off the coast. The VA reported in a fact sheet that they have “reviewed the available scientific information and concluded that it is not sufficient to support a presumption that Blue Water Navy Veterans were exposed to Agent Orange.”
Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, openly disagreed with the VA’s conclusion stating “Rather than siding with veterans, VA is doubling down on an irrational and inconsistent policy. Young sailors risked their lives during the Vietnam War, unaware that decades later, they and their children and grandchildren would still feel the toxic effects of exposure. Veterans who served offshore and in the harbors of Vietnam were exposed and deserve the presumption of service connection for Agent Orange-related diseases.”
VA based its decision to deny benefits on information obtained from a report by the Institute of Medicine that said it would be impossible to conclusively prove that the Blue Water veterans were exposed to Agent Orange. However, it did give credible merit to the possibility that the toxin could have made its way onto the ship through the distillation process. Even though distillation of water closer than 10 miles of the shore was considered against military policy, many of the veterans said that it was unavoidable and they were ordered to do it by superior officers.
Many Vietnam vets consider this a betrayal by the VA and believe they should be entitled to compensation for the illnesses they develop from exposure during times of war. Initially the Blue Water veterans were eligible for compensation through the Agent Orange Act of 1991, however, a decade later VA reinterpreted this act to exclude those previously covered. The VA released a statement saying they are working with veterans to “initiate a groundbreaking study of Blue Water Navy Veterans health outcomes. We hope to have data gathered and analyses published in 2017.”
According to one Blue Water Vietnam veteran, Wilson McDuffie, 70 “The problem is, we are all facing our mortality,” he said. “My feeling is, they’re waiting it out until the Vietnam veterans die and they don’t have to deal with it. Because it’s certainly no hurry-up to get it done for those who are suffering.”