It almost seems like a taboo topic, Blue Water Navy Veterans. My daily work related to Agent Orange and Dioxin exposure seems to bring me back to the same subject everyday. Why are these Veterans fighting for the rights that all of the other Vietnam Veterans have? I see daily infighting and name calling among Veterans groups that should be standing up for each other instead of bashing each other. People are asking questions, questions that I myself am not qualified to answer. But because of new legislation introduced on Thursday night, H.R. 3612
( a companion bill to S. 1629 and H.R. 812) the masses are demanding answers.
I came across this article today, it is the first one that I’ve seen that sheds light on the issue. Please be sure to read the full article by clicking on the link at the end of this page.
One a more personal note, I have one question that I would like answered, and one statement that I would like to make.
1. Why do we not capitalize the word Veteran? I always do when I write.
2. Every single Vietnam Era Veteran, no matter which branch of the military served, are brothers. I say, START ACTING LIKE IT!!!
The USS Ronald Reagan and her gallant crew of men and women recently performed a heroic service for thousands after the devastating earthquake and tsunami on the east coast of northern Japan. They just don’t know it yet.
The Reagan, and her carrier strike group, USS Chancellorsville and USS Preble, were nearly 100 miles offshore when they were engulfed by what the Navy described as: “A month’s radiation in just one hour.” The 7th Fleet command quickly repositioned these ships after contamination was detected aboard. If anyone in Washington has common sense, the incident should bring an end to the long and contentious war by the Department of Veterans Affairs against sailors of the Vietnam War who were exposed to Agent Orange.
But because Washington, D.C., is the last place anyone would expect to find common sense, and because this story involves the worst in bureaucratic confusion and ineptitude as well as a callous disregard for the plight of men who once sailed in harm’s way in our nation’s defense, this story is being written from a small town in Pennsylvania. It’s a disgraceful nightmare not only to these veterans, but in many cases their families with only the widows left to fend for themselves as their husbands have paid the ultimate price for serving their country.
The Navy veterans who are still alive are all over 50. They manned the decks of the greatest navy in the world, on ships large and small, determined mostly by the luck of the draw. And it was this luck of the draw that has now left the majority of them without benefits for their service. Senior bureaucrats in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs seem relentlessly determined to prevent Navy veterans of the Vietnam War from receiving benefits that are automatically granted to all other Vietnam veterans.Veterans Affairs officials made a decision to cut off previously granted benefits by reinterpreting their own regulations, and as a result, have left thousands of Navy veterans to suffer and die without disability and health benefits from the government that sent them to that distant war. It was a war that I firmly believe caused their illnesses.
After years of denial in a prolonged battle by Vietnam veterans, the government finally acknowledged the disabilities likely caused by Agent Orange, and a system was established to process claims for those who now have one or more of the diseases recognized by the VA as likely linked to exposure to these chemicals. The National Academy of Sciences was charged with determining which diseases were connected to Agent Orange. The list includes many cancers, multiple myeloma, type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, among others.
The Agent Orange Act of 1991 provided for benefits to all who had earned the Vietnam Service Medal during the 10-year war. The legislation was clear: Anyone who served, whether on land or sea, was presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. For many, it was too late, including Lt. Elmo R. Zumwalt III, the son of then Vice Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr, commander of Naval Forces, Vietnam.The younger Zumwalt was a swift boat skipper who died of cancer in 1988 at age 42. It also was too late for my friend, Marine Capt. Robert B. Scholl, whom I had talked into joining up with me in 1958. Bob flew 324 combat missions out of Da Nang during two tours, one in F4 Phantoms, the second as a helicopter gunship pilot. He died of cancer at 52.His younger brother, Jim, would follow him into the Marines, to Da Nang, and into the grave from cancer. Several other personal friends of mine have gone the same way, from the same cause.
After 1991, veterans were able to apply for disability benefits when they were stricken with deadly cancers. Besides their diagnosis, all they needed to submit was proof of Vietnam service on their Department of Defense Form 214. To this day, for veterans of the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps, the process remains clear and fast. You were there, you have it, you are eligible. But shamefully, that is not the way it works for Navy veterans. As far as the VA is concerned, most Navy Vietnam veterans were never there and are not entitled to Agent Orange benefits, even though the government of Australia has shown that its Vietnam naval veterans are dying at a higher rate than counterparts who served on the ground.
VA bureaucrats did not seem to warm to the idea of Agent Orange benefits in the first place. This was something that had been imposed upon them by Congress. Implementing this new disability benefit was going to be cumbersome, costly and impose upon their authority to determine which veterans would get what. Nevertheless, in 1990, VA regulations defined service in Vietnam to include “service in the waters offshore or service in other locations if the service involved visitation in Vietnam.” Thus, when the Agent Orange Act was passed by Congress, the simple way to determine eligibility for any veteran who was diagnosed with one of the related disabilities was proof of service in Vietnam.
Initially, eligible veterans, including Navy veterans, applied for and received the disability benefits to which they were entitled.
But in 2001, George W. Bush and his administrative team, many of whom avoided service in Vietnam, were calling the shots. Within a year, Blue Water Navy veterans would be stripped of their eligibility for Agent Orange benefits.The Bush administration bureaucrats said that sailors who served aboard ships offshore could not have been exposed to Agent Orange. Only those who could prove they had left the ship and set foot in Vietnam would be eligible for benefits. Many Navy veterans already receiving benefits had their disability revoked and payments stopped. New claims were denied, and it was left to each individual to prove on appeal that he was exposed under the new rules. Suddenly, two new terms entered the Vietnam history books: Brown Water Navy and Blue Water Navy.
Brown Water Navy veterans are eligible for Agent Orange benefits; Blue Water Navy veterans are not. The Brown Water Navy referred to boats and ships that operated on inland waterways such as swift boats skippered by Zumwalt and by Lt. John Kerry, the former presidential candidate. It also included a few landing ship tanks and other amphibious naval ships and landing craft. The Blue Water Navy was composed of larger ships that operated mainly on the open seas, particularly at Yankee Station in the Tonkin Gulf, anywhere from several miles to 50 or more miles offshore. These were the capital ships of the Navy and their escort and supply vessels. Under the modified VA rules, sailors serving aboard a Blue Water ship had to document proof that they had gone ashore in Vietnam. Few sailors could make this claim, and even for those who could found securing actual proof next to impossible in many cases.
Ironically, there is much scientific evidence to prove that Blue Water sailors were not only exposed to Agent Orange, but probably to a greater degree than troops on the ground. Because of that evidence, sailors from Australia are granted disability benefits for Agent Orange just as U.S. sailors were until 2002. Australia conducted extensive medical and scientific research from many sources, and the government concluded that its sailors and ships were exposed to Agent Orange while sailing off the coast of Vietnam and that the water distillation process then in use by Australians, as well as the U.S. Navy, likely made the contamination worse. The most important evidence is that Australia’s sailors, most of whom stayed offshore, are contracting Agent Orange cancers at a higher rate than Australian veterans who served on the ground in Vietnam. READ FULL STORY…