Slidell’s Military-Veterans Advocacy Group Praises Congressional Hearing To Restore Agent Orange Benefits To 90K Vets

SLIDELL, LA – Military-Veterans Advocacy, a Slidell, Louisiana-based veterans advocacy group, announced that the House Veterans Affairs Committee has scheduled a hearing to review proposed legislation that would restore Agent Orange benefits for up to 90,000 veterans who served in the bays, harbors and territorial seas of the Republic of Vietnam.

         The Legislative Hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday, April 5.

         In 2002 the VA stripped the presumption of exposure from these veterans, known as Blue Water Navy Veterans, and have refused to restore them, Advocacy reps said. This is despite the fact that toxic levels of Agent Orange were confirmed in Nha Trang Harbor 20 years after the war and there were plausible pathways for the dioxin to have entered the territorial seas, they said. Several Institute of Medicine Reports have confirmed that the presence of the dioxin in those waters was generally accepted. A 2015 court decision by the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims found the VA exclusion irrational, arbitrary and capricious – yet the VA refuses to change their policy, Advocacy reps said. Additionally, recent evidence showed that potable water barges serving ships at anchor in Da Nang Harbor used dioxin contaminated water from the heavily sprayed Monkey Mountain reservoir.

         Studies by the University of Queensland and the Institute of Medicine have confirmed that the distillation process in use at the time, which converted salt water to drinking water, did not remove the dioxin but enriched it, Advocacy reps said. After years of resistance, the VA finally conceded this principle in September 2015.

         "For six years we have walked the halls of Congress seeking justice for these veterans," said Military-Veterans Advocacy Executive Director Cdr. John B. Wells, USN (Retired). "We currently have 226 supporters in the House and 34 in the Senate, and the list is growing daily. We are certainly happy that Chairman (Phil) Roe (R-TN) has scheduled a hearing.

         "Chairman Roe has been a supporter in the past," said Wells. "We believe he will give the Blue Water Navy issue a fair hearing and work with us to resolve any questions. He and the Ranking Member, Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN) have pledged to work together despite the toxic political environment. Both are good men who are trying to help veterans. The stumbling block has been the cost."

         The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that restoration of the benefits would cost $1.104 billion over 10 years. Proposed offsets for the score, required by the Pay As You Go Act of 2010, have been killed by Vermont Sens. Sanders and Leahy, Advocacy reps said.

         "These Senators require us to find offsets and then they shoot them down," said Wells. "We have tried to comply with all the laws, regulations and rules, but we have been stymied at every step by the cost issue.  Frankly I don't give a damn how they pay for it.  There was plenty of money to send them to war, and they need to find the money to pay for their war-related injuries and illnesses.

         "We are not going away!" said Wells. "Military-Veterans Advocacy will continue the fight. We have an appointment new VA Secretary David Shulkin on April 21 to discuss the issue. We also have a court case pending to force the VA to grant some or all of the coverage. Recently, we initiated a petition on the White House web site to ask President Trump to intervene."

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