HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – President Trump signed into law, a bill that now makes tens of thousands of Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans eligible for health care and disability benefits.

The American Victory served in Vietnam. It converted sea water to fresh for crew’s consumption.

The law mandates veterans who served off the coast of Vietnam and Cambodia and those who served in the Korean DMZ between 1967 and 71 are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange if they develop certain diseases.

But VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has ordered a stay on any claims decisions for these veterans until at least January 1, 2020. Wilkie’s order is contrary to a Federal Court of Appeals decision earlier this year granting Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans presumptive status.

“I’m ecstatic,” Navy veteran Mike Kvintus said of the president signing what’s commonly called the Blue Water Navy bill. “This will affect all the Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans any veteran, Coast Guard, Marine, Air Force or Army who was on board any of the naval ships off South Vietnam.”

Kvintus, the National Vice Commander of the Blue Water Navy Association says he is frustrated that Secretary Wilkie ordered stays on the claims.

In 2002, the VA decided presumptive status should only be provided to military personnel who were boots on the ground in Vietnam. That excluded approximately 90,000 Blue Water Navy Veterans. For more than a decade the VA opposed efforts to provide presumptive status to Blue Water Navy Veterans.

Mike Kvintus was on the destroyer U.S.S. Buchanan. It anchored in Da Nang harbor when the military sprayed the area with Agent Orange.

The military sprayed millions of gallons of the toxic herbicide on Vietnam. Mixed with petroleum, it floated into rivers, harbors and offshore.

The Buchanan, like other ships, turned salt water into fresh. An Australian Navy study showed that the distillation process only enhanced the Agent Orange if the sea water was already contaminated.

Mike now suffers from diabetes, heart disease and neuropathy, 3 medical conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure.

The VA denied Mike’s claim for disability benefits, claiming he was not exposed because he had not stepped foot in Vietnam.

A Washington, D.C. Federal Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year, the Republic of Vietnam included its coastal waters. As a result, 90,000 veterans the VA said were not eligible for disability benefits, are.

Mike contacted 8 On Your Side in 2016 for help. Our reports challenged the VA and called out members of Congress who stalled legislative action on the bill. Blue Water Navy Veterans, their families and friends flooded Washington with emails, phone calls and letters.

“We all pulled together and drove Congress crazy,” Mike Kvintus explained.

After unanimously passing in the U.S. House of Representatives last session, the bill died in committee when Senator Mike Lee (R) Utah, held it up.

Revived in June, HR 299 won unanimous approval in the Senate.

Military Veterans Advocacy, which spearheaded the drive to restore Blue Water Navy rights, opposed HR299.

“The stay provision was one of the reasons we opposed this legislation,” said Commander John Wells, Executive Director of Military Vetrans Advocacy. ” I suspect there will be more bad news coming.”

Nonetheless, Mike Kvintus urges Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans to file claims with the VA as soon as possible and to re-file if they’ve already been denied.

If you need help, contact the Blue Water Navy Association website WWW.BWNVVA.ORG

If you know of something that you think should be investigated call our 8 On Your Side Helpline at 1 800 338-0808.

Contact Steve Andrews at sandrews@wfla.com