Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Dear Senator Burr: An Open Letter

The following letter was faxed to Senators Burr [R-NC], Specter [R-PA], and Casey [D-PA], and Representative Platts [R-PA] this afternoon:
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September 12, 2007

Senator Richard Burr, Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs
217 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Burr,

Congratulations on your becoming the Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. It is in that capacity that we write to you now.

On Monday, September 10, 2007, we faxed the attached letter to Senator Akaka, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, asking him questions regarding a bill he proposed last week, S 2026. The group to which we belong, Blue Water Navy Veterans of Vietnam, is incensed at the Senator’s action. We see it as an attempt to not only circumvent a potentially favorable decision to the Blue Water Navy Veterans Of Vietnam in the current U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit case of Haas vs. Nicholson, but also a reversal of the Nehmer decision which ordered the Department of Veterans Affairs to issue benefits retroactive to the date a claim was filed.

We have received no response from Senator Akaka.

Apparently the White House, which sent the proposed legislation to Congress so Senator Akaka would submit it as a courtesy “by request”, is fearful of a decision in the Haas case unfavorable to the chemical companies. Perhaps the President also fears the creation of a new class of potential civil court litigants in a new class action suit against not only the Chemical Companies, but also the U. S. Government. Perhaps he is fearful that this time the Government won’t escape from the litigation, as they did in the previous case.

As a group, we are at a loss to understand why the United States Government, from the White House, to Congress, to the Department of Veterans Affairs is attempting such action, especially at a time of high visibility over Veterans care. Blue Water Navy Veterans Of Vietnam fought with honor and loyalty in the Vietnam War, and deserve the benefits accorded to other Veterans who fought in that war. Scientific evidence exists that backs up that claim [see references in attached letter].

From our point of view as Veterans, seconded by other types of Veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs has established an adversarial relationship with the men and women it exists to serve. This is in part the result of policies issuing from the White House during several recent administration, and because Congress has not kept an adequate watch on the Department. The DVA has, on its own, or at the direction of Executive and Legislative braanches, changed its mission: The DVA no longer serves the Veterans of the United States, it allows them to apply for benefits through a long and tortuous process that discourages far too many from continuing to seek benefits. In other words, the goal of the DVA is now to find a way to deny benefits to as many Veterans as they can.

In the specific case of the Blue Water Navy Veterans of Vietnam, many Veterans believe there is a deeper, more insidious reason the DVA is fighting so hard to deny us benefits under Agent Orange legislation. We are suspicious that the only reason the DVA is appealing the Haas decision is to prevent the formation of a new class of potential litigants for a new Civil Suit against the chemical manufacturers of the dioxin based chemicals sprayed as defoliants in Vietnam.

If the DVA is fighting us to deny us our due process rights, or if they are attempting to deny us because of the financial burden on the taxpayers, neither reason is legitimate, ethically, morally, or, we believe, legally. The actions of the DVA in the Haas case, and the intent of Senator Akaka’s S2026 are both dishonorable actions on the part of the United States Government.

The DVA exists to fulfill the government’s side of an implied contract with every member who serves in the military of the United States. This DVA does everything in its power to avoid that. Senator Akaka’s bill would make Congress complicit in that avoidance.

Since the passage of the Agent Orange legislation during the administration of President George H. W. Bush, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been working internally to limit, and reduce eligibility for Agent Orange related benefits for Air Force and Naval personnel. The DVA has used their own office of General Counsel to issue “precedents” that serve as a legal basis for denying benefits to whole classes of Veterans. The DVA has exerted undue influence on its own scientific bodies tasked with finding scientific evidence that relates to the effects of dioxin exposure in humans, by quashing the presentation of evidence supporting claims of exposure in Blue Water Navy Veterans of Vietnam. The DVA, having been taken to task twice by their own court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims [the Hass decision in August, 2006, and in a ruling in Ribaudo vs. Nicholson in January 2007] for its high-handed and improper methods of issuing policy, has decided to appeal the Hass decision as noted earlier. The case now is awaiting oral arguments.

While all these delays are occurring, Blue Water Navy Veterans of Vietnam are dying at a higher rate than their land-based counterparts. Agent Orange diseases came late to the Blue Water Navy Veterans Of Vietnam, possibly because of the way we were exposed. Rather than being directly sprayed, as happened with troops on the ground, most of us were contaminated through our ships’ fresh water distillation systems, which, according to a scientific study done by the Australian government, not only failed to eliminate the dioxins carried out to sea via runoff, or overspray, but in fact enhanced it by concentrating it. Thus, the sailors off the coast of Vietnam bathed in it, drank it and cooked with it.

The governments of Australia and New Zealand are now providing benefits and medical coverage to their Vietnam Naval Veterans who served so nobly beside our own during the Vietnam War.

Is it not time for the United States to do the same?

Is it not right that the responsibility of the United States is to its Veterans first, before its corporations?

We would like some answers, Senator Burr. We would like to know if you will stand with us. We would like to know if you will work with Senator Akaka to change the language in S 2026 so it does the exact opposite of what it does now and mandates presumptive eligibility for Naval Veterans of the Vietnam War for those who were awarded the Vietnam Service Medal or the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for Vietnam Service. Further, modify the language of the bill to affirm a prior court decree that claims must be paid retroactively to the date the claim was filed.

This would then both affirm and make moot the Hass and Nehmer decisions.

Senator, we need your help on this issue, and that of every other Senator and Representative in Congress. A great and grave wrong has been done to loyal citizens of this nation who fought for this country and were damaged in the process. We need Congress to step up and correct that wrong in numbers high enough to override a Presidential Veto.

Will you please step up and lead this effort for us, Senator Burr? You will be doing a great and valuable service to your country, correcting a great wrong. You will also be remembered in the hearts of many, many Blue Water Navy Veterans of Vietnam.

Finally, you will be raising the bar in the treatment of Veterans by the United States Government, something that was never as good as it should have been, and has sunk to new depths of late.

Respectfully,

VNVets
http://vnvets.blogspot.com

Attachments:

Letter to Senator Akaka

8. AMICUS CURIAE BRIEF ON BEHALF OF ........... IN SUPPORT OF APPELLEE JONATHAN L. HAAS IN SUPPORT OF AFFIRMANCE OF THE COURT BELOW
Located at:

http://www.bluewaternavy.org/Amicus%20John%20Wells.pdf

Note: If desired, more links to scientific evidence will be provided on request.

CC:

Senator Arlen Specter
Senator Robert Casey
Representative Todd Platts
VNVets Blog [http://vnvets.blogspot.com]

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VNVets

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." --
President Abraham Lincoln

"Without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious." --President George Washington

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