Imagine ten years from now. Very few young people in this country have the slightest interest in joining the military. Even fewer who do join have any interest in reenlisting. Who will protect the nation when no one wants to serve in the military? The Bush administration has embarked on a course that could eventually cost the United States its military.
The stubborn and ill advised refusal of the Bush administration to back away from challenging the ruling in the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in the Haas vs Nicholson case will likely have longstanding and wide ranging ramifications far beyond the protection such refusal gives to the chemical companies who manufactured Agent Orange. Corporate protectionism at the expense of our nation’s veterans is an absolutely reprehensible action to begin with, but no amount of stockholder money is worth the potential loss of confidence among our nation’s youth and current members of the US Military, that their futures will be protected by the government should they be affected medically by their service to the nation.
In 2002, the DVA cut off benefits to Blue Water Navy Veterans of Vietnam – benefits they had been paying on claims from as early as the Agent Orange Act of 1991 went into effect, essentially claiming that the initial intent of Congress in the 1991 Agent Orange Act did not include Blue Water Navy Veterans unless they actually set foot on the ground in Vietnam. Oddly enough, 2002 was the projected end of the Agent Orange Act, but Congress renewed it in 2002, adding the creation of the Institute of Medicine, and their task of assembling scientific evidence for the DVA to review.
In the Haas case, the Department of Veterans Affairs took a hit from what is essentially their own court. The Court took the DVA to task for changing the interpretation of the law that was in place from 1991 until they took their action in 2002. The Court ruled that there is, essentially, no difference between the Brown Water Navy Veterans of Vietnam – those who served in the Riverine Forces, and Navy SeaBees, for example, and the Blue Water Navy Veterans of Vietnam who served off shore, and did not set foot on the ground.
The DVA appealed the Haas decision early this year, and the briefs have been filed. Oral arguments are scheduled for November 7th in the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Additionally, new evidence favorable to the Blue Water Veterans [and Haas] was introduced in an amicus brief that sought to insert the study done by the Australian government that showed sea water with dioxin contaminated run off, when processed by a ship’s evaporators to make fresh and potable water, did not eliminate the dioxins, but instead concentrated them. This study, which was conducted more than a few years ago, has been suppressed and ignored by the DVA, even to the point of forcing the Institute of Medicine to preclude it from their annual Agent Orange Report, which the DVA reviews for scientific evidence that would make a change to who, and what disease or conditions, would qualify for Presumptive Eligibility for exposure to Agent Orange.
The Australian and New Zealand governments have been paying benefits to their Vietnam Navy Veterans for a couple of years now.
Early in September, the DVA asked the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Senator Daniel Akaka, to introduce a bill, S.2026, which would in essence, permanently block all Blue Water Navy Veterans who did not set foot on the ground in Vietnam from receiving Presumptive Eligibility for exposure to Agent Orange. In addition, this proposed legislation would overturn the Court decision in Nehmer vs. the DVA, which forced the DVA to pay claims for Agent Orange related disease retroactively to their date of claim, or September 25, 1985, whichever was later.
These manipulations and maneuverings on the part of the Bush Administration’s cabinet level Veterans Affairs department are symptomatic of the effort to protect not only the chemical companies, but also the government from being named as defendants in a class action suit similar to the one decided in the late 1990s. Since that suit remains closed by the judge who decided it, and the DVA stopped benefits for Blue Water Navy sailors in 2002, a new class of potential litigants has been created. While they cannot reopen the old case -- something the administration may want to reconsider since the government was dealt out of that case, the door is open to a new case, and this time the government might not be dealt out.
The danger, should the DVA be upheld in Haas, or Congress enact S.2026 or some facsimile thereof, or both, stems from the example being set for all veterans henceforth. The dismissal of protection provided by the United States government for Veterans who honorably served at war, and at peace, will have an extremely deleterious effect on military recruitment, and retention. Who would make a career out of a military that serves a government that throws its Veterans to the wolves rather than allow corporations to pay damages won in court, and to avoid paying benefits and extending medical care for those Veterans. What youth would enlist in the military when the government will not live up to its obligations to its Veterans?
We think it reprehensible that the current administration has worked so hard to prevent thousands of Veterans from receiving their proper care, and benefits. But then, perhaps the administration is waiting for word that they can indeed be dealt out of a second Agent Orange class action lawsuit.
Frankly, I don’t care if the government is made a defendant in a new Agent Orange class action suit. But I would like an apology from the United States government, for their bad decisions in this case, for employing Agent Orange when they knew the effects it would have on anyone exposed, and then wasting the taxpayers money while employing every possible means to delay and deny these benefits until the potential class has died off.
"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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