For going on 19 years the VA stuck by its conviction that only military personnel who served on the ground in Vietnam were exposed to the hazardous herbicide Agent Orange.
That flawed determination excluded 90,000 Blue Water Navy veterans, like Mike Kvintus from eligibility for VA disability and health care benefits.
A federal court, earlier this year, decided those sailors who served offshore are indeed eligible. Congress and the president underscored the decision by passing a bill restoring to those veterans the access stripped away by the VA.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie ordered stays on all claims decisions relating to Blue Water Navy veterans.
“The VA is dedicated to ensuring that all Veterans receive the benefits they have earned,” Wilkie stated in a press release. “We are working to ensure that we have the proper resources in place to mee the needs of our Blue Water Navy Veteran community and minimize the impact on all Veterans filing for disability compensation.”
Military Veterans Advocacy Executive Director John Wells has fought for years to restore these benefits. Wells opposed the bill Congress passed because he felt the language inserted ambiguity into the process and it provided Wilkie the authority to stay the claims decisions.
Wells is critical of veterans service organizations like the VFW and others that supported the legislation.
“This was an opportunity for Mark Takano the Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and the large veterans service organizations to step out in front of the camera, preen a little bit and say, ‘ Hey we’ve done something,’ well they did nothing,” Wells explained.
Wells believes Wilkie not only overstepped his authority, but that he stomped on the toes of a decision by a federal judge.
“The plan is to give him a couple of weeks to either rescind or clarify his stay, and if he doesn’t do it, the plan is to go back to court,” Wells said.
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