HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Navy veterans of the Vietnam War, outraged that the VA has again put their access to benefits on hold, are suing.
“For years we’ve said the unofficial motto of the VA is delay, deny, until they die and I think this is an example of that,” said John Wells Executive Director of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association.
Wells contends that VA Secretary Robert Wilkie overstepped his authority by placing a stay on all Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veteran claims until January 2020.
“We’ve taken them to Congress, we’ve taken them to court, to the media, we’ve embarrassed them, made them look like idiots, we’ve caught them in lies, and I think a lot of this is just pure bureaucratic relation,” Wells explained.
in 2002, The VA excluded 90,000 Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans from health care and disability benefits by claiming they were not exposed to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange.
Earlier this year a federal court ruled the VA was wrong to do that.
It determined that Navy veterans who served on ships in the bays, harbors and territorial waters of Vietnam are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange.
The herbicide has been linked to several deadly diseases.
Vietnam veterans who develop those illnesses are eligible to receive VA health care and disability benefits.
Congress passed a bill and the President signed it extending Agent Orange benefits to these veterans.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie contends that the bill, which takes effect in January authorized him to place a stay on Blue Water Navy claims.
In a letter to Wells, Wilkie wrote, “We are working to ensure that we have the proper resources in place to meet the needs of our Blue Water Navy Veteran community and minimize the impact of the Act on all Veterans filing for disability compensation.” “What really kind of gets to me, is when I met with the Secretary in April, we showed him how the vast majority of these cases are easily adjudicated,” Wells said. “If a veteran puts in a deck log showing that his ship was in a bay or harbor such as Da Nang, it’s automatically within the territorial sea.”
Secretary Wilkie issued a stay on Blue Water Navy claims earlier this month. Wells filed suit in federal court in Washington, D.C.
American ships unknowingly turned Agent Orange contaminated saltwater into fresh for drinking, cooking, bathing, etc.
Distillation systems on the ships did not eliminate the poison, they enhanced it.
It is estimated more than 500 Vietnam veterans now die each day.
Wells calls the stay unconscionable.
“One of our petitions, Johnny Harper out of Louisiana, he’s not going to make 6 months,” Wells stated. “If this stay, stays in effect, he’ll never seen his benefits and that’s a tragedy.”
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