The clock is ticking on a bill to help Vietnam-era Navy veterans, and time is running out on many of them who are now sick.
The legislation extends health care and disability benefits to Navy veterans suffering from exposure to the toxic herbicide known as Agent Orange.
The so-called Blue Water Navy bill would assist 50-70,000 Navy veterans.
In June, the measure sailed through the U.S.House of Representatives, where it received a unanimous endorsement.
Then instead of leading the way, Georgia Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, blocked the door.
About 90,000 U.S.sailors fought in the Vietnam War, not on the ground, but from the sea.
Their ships pulled into Vietnam’s bays and harbors.
Veteran Mike Kvintus of New Port Richey was one of them.
“My ship sailed into Da Nang Harbor, and the days that I was there, they sprayed Agent Orange all over the harbor,” Mike recalled.
The U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of the herbicide Agent Orange on Vietnam, to kill vegetation in which the enemy hid and rob them of their food supply.
The powerful defoliant is now killing Americans.
“I have diabetes, I have heart disease, neuropathy, I have kidney disease, all these are associated with Agent Orange.
The VA doesn’t agree.
It maintains the science connecting Agent Orange to sailors that never touched Vietnam soil, is just not there.
“Baloney,” Commander John Wells of Military Veterans Advocacy said.
According to Mr. Wells, a major force behind this bill, this isn’t about science, it is about money that the VA does not want to pay.
Cdr. Wells cites studies that show Agent Orange ran into streams and rivers, then ended up offshore.
There, U.S. ships converted contaminated sea water to water that crews drank, cooked and bathed in.
The distillation process only enhanced the Agent Orange.
In June the House unanimously passed legislation extending health care and disability benefits to Navy veterans who served in Vietnam’s territorial waters and now suffer from Agent Orange-related illnesses.
Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson, chairman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs put on the brakes. The bill still sits in limbo.
“It’s on its last leg, hopefully, it’s not on life support,” John Wells explained. “We still have a couple of weeks in the lame duck session to try to get it through.”
Mr. Wells hears the bill may start moving next week.
“My confidence it’s going to pass Congress this year, no,” Mr. Wells added. “I think there’s a chance.”
This Congress is running out of time. So are many veterans.
“I took an oath to defend the constitution of the United States,” Navy veteran Mike Kvintus explained. “With that, I felt the country should take care of me and they’re not doing it.”
John Wells has fought this fight for seven years. He vows if they lose this battle, the war will continue next year.
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