The fight to provide tens of thousands of Vietnam era veterans and their children with benefits is gaining momentum.
Legislation extending Agent Orange benefits to up to 90,000 Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans who served in the territorial waters of Vietnam, veterans who served in or near the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), as well as to children of certain Thailand veterans born with spina bifida is going before the House Veterans Affairs Committee in Washington on Tuesday.
The Blue Water Navy bill, as it is known, has 329 co-sponsors.
It’s foundered in committee for more than two years as politicians debated how to fund it.
“We’re raising fees for VA home loans for non-disabled veterans,” said John Wells, Executive Director of Military Veterans Advocacy, Inc. “It’s a small increase ranging from a quarter to a half percent.”
The Veterans Affairs Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday. Wells hopes the committee will vote to move the bill before the full House, where it has overwhelming support.
From there he anticipates it will be hotlined to the Senate, and if there is no objection it will pass.
“If we can get it to the president by Memorial Day, that would be fantastic,” said Cdr. Wells.
Forty-three years after America left Vietnam, this legislation could turn the tide for Blue Water Navy veterans.
Currently, if veterans who fought in the jungles, swamps and rivers of Vietnam develop any illness on a list of diseases, the VA presumes Agent Orange exposure caused those conditions.
That means health care, disability and death benefits for veterans who were boots on the ground and their families.
But not for Navy veterans Mike Kvintus of New Port Richey.
The VA excluded members of the Blue Water Navy.
“It just eats at me because I still support the country, I would fight for this country today,” said Kvintus.
Kvintus was on the destroyer U.S.S Buchanan.
Deck logs obtained by Target 8 show the ship anchored in Da Nang harbor the day the military sprayed Agent Orange.
“The plume covered that whole harbor,” remembers Kvintus.
The military drenched Vietnam with the cancer causing herbicide.
It ran into streams, rivers and harbors.
Ships like the Buchanan pulled in salt water, turned it into potable water for cooking, drinking and bathing, unknowingly enhancing the poison.
Kvintus now suffers from conditions linked to Agent Orange.
“I expected my country to take care of me and they haven’t done that,” said Kvintus.
Wells points out it has taken from 2011 to the spring of 2018 to get this far.
“I’m based out of Louisiana so I come up here about 10, 12 weeks a year to go and talk to every office and I’ve been to every individual office in the House and Senate, many of them more than once. It’s a hard slog,” added Wells. “We’ve never gotten this far. Next up, Guam.”
Finally a consensus and maybe resolution.
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