Monday, July 06, 2015
Senator, Congressman Announce Push for ‘Blue Water’ Vets at Legion Post
UTICA, NY — U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Richard Hanna announced Monday a new bipartisan push to help “Blue Water” veterans obtain VA health benefits and spotlighted a Navy Vietnam War vet at Utica American Legion Post 229 as an example of veterans suffering from diseases attributed to Agent Orange toxin.
The senator and congressman scheduled a press conference at Utica Post 229 to discuss senate and house legislation that would grant health care benefits to Vietnam vets who served off shore on ships. When Gillibrand’s flight from Washington, D.C. was delayed, her regional director, Colleen Deacon, spoke on her behalf. Congressman Hanna introduced Legionnaire Dave Manore, who served on the U.S.S. Arlington in the Gulf of Tonkin. Utica Post 229 Commander Chris Urban introduced Deacon and Hanna, and spoke of the number of veterans suffering service-connected disabilities. A host of veterans attended the news conference representing the American Legion, VFW, DAV, Vietnam Veterans of American, and Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Gillibrand and Hanna are rallying support for the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015, legislation that would clarify existing law so that Blue Water veterans would be fully covered by the VA if they served within the “territorial seas,” or approximately 12 miles offshore of Vietnam. The bill would make it easier for VA to process Vietnam War veterans’ claims for service-connected conditions and alleviate a portion of the VA’s backlog by extending presumptive coverage of Agent Orange benefits to these veterans. Gillibrand introduced the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015 with Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) on March 15, 2015. Hanna is an original cosponsor of the House companion legislation introduced by Rep. Chris Gibson.
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed approximately 20 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam to remove jungle foliage. This toxic chemical had devastating effects for millions serving in Vietnam. In 1991, Congress passed a law requiring Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide presumptive coverage to Vietnam veterans with illnesses that the Institute of Medicine has directly linked to Agent Orange exposure. However, in 2002 the VA determined that it would only cover Veterans who could prove that they had orders for “boots on the ground” during the Vietnam War. This exclusion affects thousands of sailors who may have still received significant Agent Orange exposure from receiving VA benefits.
“Thousands of our veterans are being denied benefits they need and deserve because of a technicality in the law,” Senator Gillibrand said in a joint press 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.”
“All of our veterans who were exposed to the powerful toxin Agent Orange deserve treatment and care for the debilitating effects that are linked to it,” said Rep. Hanna. “We cannot deny our sailors treatment due a technicality in the law. That’s why together with Senator Gillibrand I am working to see this change takes effect as soon as possible so we can give our Vietnam veterans the compensation and care they not only deserve but have earned through fighting for this nation during times of war.”
In a statement, Rep. Gibson said: “I was proud to introduce the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act in the House, where a bipartisan group of more than 230 Members of Congress have signed on as cosponsors. I am delighted this bill is making progress in the Senate with the support of Senator Gillibrand. As a veteran myself, I appreciate her advocacy on this front. I also want to express my gratitude to Carol Olszanecki of Ellenville for her continued hard work on behalf of our Blue Water Navy veterans and families.”
Utica Post 229 Commander Chris Urban noted: “There are 21.8 million veterans in the U.S. (veterans compose about 7% of the U.S. population) and about 4 million of those veterans have a service-related disability (disabled veterans compose just over 1% of the U.S. population). It should be a national priority to do everything possible to take care of the small number of men and women who have health issues as a result of defending this great nation. This bipartisan bill is an example of how our lawmakers should work.”
“On behalf of all my Blue Water brothers I wish to thank Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Hanna as well as their colleages in Congress for championing the cause of “Blue Water Veterans,” said Legionnaire and Navy Veteran Dave Manore. “During the Vietnam War powerful toxins (Agent Orange) were used. Because absolute control of these toxins was impossible, it entered the waters in and around Vietnam and thus moved at the will of the sea. Ships which were stationed in the waters near Vietnam took in sea water from the sea, processed it and made it potable. This became the crew’s drinking water, shower water, cooking water, etc.; thus exposing them to any toxin within the water. Currently I suffer from type II diabetes and it is a struggle each and every day; testing multiple times and five’ shots of insulin daily. I have been denied coverage from the VA because I am not “Boots on the Ground’, but a ‘Blue Water Vet’. I also know that greater than 80% of the men who served aboard the Arlington suffer from one or more of the VA-listed Agent Orange maladies. While it is nice to draw a line on a map to determine who has and who has not been exposed to Agent Orange, that information was not passed on to mother nature.”
A May 2011 report by the Institute of Medicine established several “plausible routes” for Agent Orange exposure through the water distillation process aboard Navy ships and through the air. In 2010, a study by the Institute of Medicine cited exposure to Agent Orange resulted in an increased chance of developing serious heart problems and Parkinson’s disease. A 1990 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed Vietnam veterans had a rate of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma 50 percent higher than the general population. Agent Orange is linked to a range of other diseases, including several blood and respiratory cancers, type II diabetes, prostate cancer and more.
In 2005, the VA’s former Director of Environmental Agents Service, Dr. Mark Brown, publicly acknowledged that there was no scientific basis for the exclusion of Blue Water Vietnam veterans, but the VA has continued to refuse these veterans presumptive benefits Congress initially intended. In his article in the Journal of Law and Policy, Dr. Brown wrote, “Science does not back up the VA’s policy on the Navy.”