The U.S. House of Representatives voted 382-0 to approve extending Agent Orange benefits to tens of thousands of Navy veterans who served in the territorial waters off the coast of Vietnam.
“The Blue Water Navy bill,” as it’s been called, has never before gotten this far and has a tidal wave of support.
“It’s been seven years on this particular bill,” said John Wells, executive director of Military Veterans Advocacy. “The V.A. stripped us of the benefits back in 2002.”
This legislation will provide the same Agent Orange benefits to Navy veterans as troops who served on the ground during the Vietnam conflict.
Agent Orange is a powerful herbicide, used to defoliate the jungles to expose the enemy cover and rob him of a food supply.
Exposure to this toxic weed killer has been linked to several forms of cancers, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease and more.
The bill, if approved by the Senate, will require the Department of Veterans Affairs to identify bases in Thailand where Agent Orange was used.
It would make more eligible for benefits, such as children born to Thailand veterans, with spina bifida.
“This is really a great day in the United States Congress, Mr. Speaker and a great day for our heroes,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis, who rose to speak in favor of the bill.
“Our nation’s heroes have answered the call to protect the liberties we enjoy on a daily basis. Today it is our turn to answer the call and assist our veterans in return.”
It’s a great day for Navy Veteran like Mike Kvintus of Pasco County.
Kvintus served on the U.S.S. Buchanan.
Deck logs obtained by 8 On Your Side show the destroyer was anchored in Da Nang harbor as the military sprayed the toxic defoliant Agent Orange over head.
“The plume covered that whole harbor,” remembers Kvintus.
The VA rejected his claim that his heart disease and diabetes are related to Agent Orange exposure.
Kvintus has fought the VA for benefits.
“Any appeal that’s in process, and we’ve told people to keep their appeals in process, we should be able to expedite and get folks their benefits as fast as we can,” stated Wells.
Studies show Agent Orange seeped into rivers and streams which flowed into harbors and territorial waters.
American ships unknowingly inhaled contaminated water, desalinated it and our sailors drank and bathed in it.
The process actually enhanced the Agent Orange, meaning U.S. naval personnel were drinking a stronger form of the herbicide.
The Australian Navy found that its sailors developed illnesses tied to Agent Orange at a higher percentage than its ground troops.
This legislation will determine whether a ship crossed into Vietnam’s territorial waters using official Navy records, like deck logs.
“If we didn’t define it and define it the way we wanted to do it, the VA and their regulatory process could define territorial waters as a lake in the middle of Saigon,” explained Wells. “We took the extra step of going the extra mile of defining the area of longitude and latitude.”
Now, 382 members of the House agreed it is high time America does right by its veterans.
“We feel fairly confident. We’re hoping that the Senate will do what they call the hotline, which is a request for a unanimous consent,” said Wells.
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