VA to Drop Fight Against Blue Water Navy Veterans
By Patricia Kime
26 Mar 2019
The Department of Veterans Affairs will not appeal a January court ruling that ordered it to provide health care and disability benefits for 90,000 veterans who served on Navy ships during the Vietnam War, likely paving the way for "Blue Water Navy" sailors and Marines to receive Agent Orange-related compensation and VA-paid health care benefits.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Tuesday that he will recommend the Justice Department not fight the decision, handing a victory to ill former service members who fought for years to have their diseases recognized as related to exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange.
Last year, the House unanimously passed a bill, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, to provide benefits to affected service members. But Wilkie objected, saying the science does not prove that they were exposed to Agent Orange. Veterans and their advocates had argued that the ships' distilling systems used Agent Orange-tainted seawater, exposing sailors on board to concentrated levels of dioxin.
However, the bill failed in the Senate when two Republicans, Sen. Michael Enzi of Wyoming and Mike Lee of Utah, said they wanted to wait for a vote pending the outcome of a current study on Agent Orange exposure.
Committee chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, also promised a hearing later this year on burn pits and other environmental exposures some troops say left them with lifelong illnesses, including cancers -- some fatal -- and respiratory diseases.
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