Monday, May 18, 2009

HR 2254: The Agent Orange Equity Act of 2009

Marcus Annaeus Seneca wrote:

The conditions of conquest are always easy. We have but to toil awhile, endure awhile, believe always, and never turn back.
HR 2254 is finally here. It promises to right many wrongs perpetrated against so many Veterans by the agency chartered to care for them.

There are things in it that perhaps belong in another bill, and there are some things that need correction, and one item that needs to be added, but overall, this bill restores benefits that were taken away by the Department of Veterans Abuse, from the Veterans who served gallantly in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia [TLC], the Blue Sky Air Force Veterans, and the Blue Water Navy Veterans.

HR 2254 would establish once again the receipt of the Vietnam Service Medal as the qualifying criteria for presumptive exposure to herbicides while serving in and around Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

The bill contains a reference to Veterans who served on Johnston Island, a group that perhaps would be better served in what we hope will soon arrive: A toxins bill covering all other herbicide exposures during the Vietnam War era and toxin exposures to our Veterans who served in Gulf War I.

We believe the language citing the Vietnam Service Medal or the Vietnam Campaign Medal as the qualifying criteria for presuptive exposure to be an error. The Vietnam Campaign Medal was awarded to those who served in the combat zone for six months or more, AND who received either the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for service in Vietnam, or the Vietnam Service Medal. One had to have one of the latter two in order to be awarded the Campaign Medal. Instead, we believe the language should read to include the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for Service in Vietnam, not the Vietnam Campaign Medal.

Finally, we believe it is important that retroactivity be covered properly in this bill. While the effective date goes all the way back to 1985, it does not address those who accepted the DVA at their word after a denial and did not file an appeal. All the policy changes to the DVA's M21-1 Manual that resulted in the removal of groups of eligible Veterans from benefits under the Agent Orange Act of 1991 were done without putting the changes out for public comment, and without making appropriate changes to 38 CFR without public comment, thus depriving the public, including the Veterans of due process, and their Constitutional right to address the government. Ergo, all claims denied after those changes were made were incorrect, extralegal, and should be automatically reviewed for reversal. If language is not included in this bill, all those Veterans will be forced to file separate appeals, and litigations up to and including the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in order to seek the justice required to reverse those decisions. A simple statement to this effect in the legislation would eliminate this problem.

We noted elsewhere today that:

Right and justice have little to do with it. And if you think we and our cause are not part of a larger picture, think again. Our bill [HR 2254] would be an enormous smackdown of the DVA. Our bill would restore faith in the Veterans of the future that their benefits will be there when they need them. Our bill starts the ball rolling toward a complete makeover of the mindset locked in the brains of all those DVA employees. Oh yes, and our bill rights a terrible wrong done to far too many, and does so many years too late for far too many more.

Writing letters to Akaka and Filner at this time are pointless. Akaka is well aware of HR 2254. And he is content to wait until it comes to him passed by the House.

I cannot emphasize this enough. We must focus ALL, repeat ALL of our efforts at getting co-sponsors in the House for HR 2254 and a Sponsor to introduce, and co sponsors for the bill in the Senate. And we are failing miserably at the moment.

Letters do little and take too long. I keep pointing that out. Personal contact. Face to face with your elected Congressional Reps and Sens. Phone calls, get to know their staff, and nicely ask for their assistance in getting your message to the Senator or the Congressman. Go to their offices. This is not yet the time for a March on DC, but it IS the time to march on your elected Congressional delegation.

And do not forget the state representatives. Contact them and ask for their help by getting them to float a resolution calling for the entire state Congressional Delegation to support HR 2254 and the funding for it.

Folks, our bill will sit in the Subcommittee where it now resides until such time as Filner thinks he had enough Co-sponsors to give the bill a chance. The bill will not see hearings until that time. And we are very far below what he needs.
Indeed, the numbers recorded on the polls on the right side of theis page are woefully inadequate to acheive any measure of success in getting HR 2254 enacted.

Here is what we need:

  • We need more cosponsors in the House & Senate.

  • We need full support for HR 2254 AND for its funding, from as many Members of the House and Senate as possible.

  • We URGENTLY need a Senator to Introduce the Bill in the Senate!!!!!

  • We need all 50 state legislatures to pass a resolution calling on their respective state Congressional Delegations to support HR 2254 and its funding --ASAP!

  • We need public awareness of this issue in the print and electronic media.
  • Ladies and genetlemen, fellow Veterans, this is it. Our last shot at obtaining justice, at restoring our historical legacy, at securing our financial legacy for our survivors, and obtaining the medical treatment we require.

    Our enemy is the DVA. They have already struck a blow against us by using scare tactics in their estimates of the cost of HR 2254. We have countered them with Chairman Filner and staff, but every Congressman and Senator you approach needs to be made aware that the bill should cost less than $3 billion the first year [to cover retroactive benefits as well as on going], and a budget bump of less than $1 billion after that, diminishing as time goes on and Veterans and their surviviors pass on.

    Compared to TARP and all the other bailouts, this is a drop in the bucket.

    When you contact your elected officials to get their support make sure you mention this estimate. It is far more valid than the $27 billion the DVA or the DVA inspired Congressional Budget Office "estimated".

    There's not much else to say except this is it. We need to pass this, and hopefully the Toxins Bill when it comes out, along with several other bills you can read about on the trackers at the top of the right sidebar. After that, we'll take stock and see what is next. We have a list of fixes for the DVA, but these are the important first steps.

    Think BIG, folks!

    VNVets

    ”It is a stain on this nation's honor that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield."-- VNVets

    "The concept that Agent Orange, and its effects, stopped dead in its tracks at the shoreline is simply too illogical, and too ludicrous to accept. What does that say about the Bush Administration and his Department of Veterans Affairs?"--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

    "It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."--President George Washington

    Copyright © 2005-2009: VNVets Blog -- Now in our Fifth Year of Service to Veterans; All Rights Reserved.

    16 comments:

    Anonymous said...

    It will never get out of committee, Filner is in it only for the publicity...particularly in his district which is very heavy with vets and active duty.

    Anonymous said...

    You have expressed my sentiments, feelings, thoughts on our cause precisly. I hope that all victims of our such abuse will take your message to heart and face the fact--if this Bill fails--so does our hope. We can't hope for the courts to help. They Denied Us. We can't hope for the DVA to help. They "poured salt into our wounds and rubbed it in" thru denial, rather than binding, soothing, and healing our wounds thru justice. The Public and Congress is ourlast hope. My prayer is that we will become motivated and persistent enought to get Congress and the Public fighting with us in our cause for honor, justice, and rewards due us.

    Anonymous said...

    In the 'for what it's worth' department, I sent the following to Senator M. Martinez (R-FL) this morning:

    "I would like to solicit your help on a serious veterans issue: In the House, Representitive Bob Filner (D-CA)has introduced HR 2254 which clarifies the intent of the Agent Orange Act of 1991. As you may know, this act covered Vietnam Vets for presumptive conditions brought on by exposure to the dioxin laden agent orange during the Vietnam war....over the years, the DVA has subverted this act from it's original intent which was to cover all Vietnam Vets who held the Vietnam Service Medal....the first group that the DVA disenfranchised were the Blue Water Vietnam Navy Vets who served in ships offshore. They came up with a 'boots on the ground' criteria for these vets...no matter that the dioxins in A.O. were ingested in larger amounts due to passing through the ships distilling units as fresh water and that most ships operated within sight of land...not even counting the times inport or up rivers. The DVA has actually made the ridiculous statement that the airborne herbicides stopped at the waters edge and while ground forces 25 miles to the west of an Agent Orange area were covered, sea forces 11 miles to the east were not. At the same time the Royal Austrailian Navy and the Royal New Zealand Navy were stating that their Naval vets of the Vietnam war were just as affected by A.O. as their ground forces....the U.S. DVA was excluding our Naval forces. HR2254 is designed to correct this.
    I request you interest yourself in this bill should it ever emerge from committee, through the house, and into the Senate. If you read this bill and agree, please consider, introducing a Senate bill to match it....and please, the fact it was introduced by a Democrat should have no bearing, obiligations to veterans should not be affected by partisan politics.
    Your consideration and assistance will be greatly appreaciated by all veterans, both those directly affected and others."

    My personal feeling is that none of this is going anywhere but I will not let that stop me from doing all I can....God knows I would love to be proven wrong on this one!!

    Anonymous said...

    Today I received the following email from Senator Mel Martinez in response to my communication to him regarding Mr Filner's bill:

    "Thank you for providing me with information regarding the budget for the Department of Defense.

    I am proud and humbled to serve as Florida's thirty-third United States Senator, and I intend to work hard to represent all Floridians here in the United States Senate. Through your correspondence, I am informed of the issues that are important to you and am better able to serve your interests in the Senate.

    I appreciate being apprised on issues of importance to the people of Florida. I will be sure to keep this information in mind as we proceed in the 111th Congress.

    Again, thank you for contacting me. If you have any additional questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me. In addition, for more information about issues and activities important to Florida, please sign up for my weekly newsletter at http://martinez.senate.gov."

    Well, I guess, in a way, it has something to do "..with the budget for the Department of Defense"

    Anonymous said...

    I'm a BlueWaterNavy vet and enrolled with the Palo Alto VA last year with open arms and told
    I was elgible for all benefits due to agent orange illnesses, never told elgibility was still awaiting approval from the higher courts, now after being disabled for 8 months and not getting better, hope looks bleak. I'm writing my congressperson to help HR2254 get passed, help spread the word thru friends and relatives, thank you, Glen YN3 USS YORKTOWN CVS10 (66/68)

    VNVets said...

    Glen,

    Why not join us at VASVW? Lots of good folks there who can offer assistance and advice.

    Click on the big orange VASVW logo on the left sidebar.

    VNVets

    Anonymous said...

    I agree with all of what is said here but your comment "we believe the language should read to include the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for Service in Vietnam, not the Vietnam Campaign Medal". It would be very harmful and unfair to those of us who were equally exposed to agent orange and received the awards you mentioned excluding the Expeditionary Metal. We ALL served and sacrificed for our country being promised many things which were later lies. Lets ALL stand together for our entitlement and don't short-change anyone.

    VNVets said...

    The Vietnam Campaign Medal was awarded to anyone who spent six months or more in the Vietnam Theater and was awarded either the Vietnam Service Medal or the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for Service in Vietnam. The last two are interchangeable, and as a condition for receiving the Camaign Medal, then the Campaign Medal is not and should not be a criteria for eligibility.

    aethomasthomas said...

    I am a 1965 US Navy Veteran. We went from Cambodia to the Saigon River. I have had 4-5 Ischemic strokes and 1 Ischemic heart attack that I know of. The Veterans Admin. is now the enemy. They are worse than the VC, because they are watching us suffer and die. We should march on Washington, D.C., circle the White House, sit down and demand that the Veterans Admin. meets us there!

    Liam said...

    I was in RVAH-6 stationed aboard CVA 66, USS America during July 1972-May 1973.

    During that period of time I was required to assist with storage if supplies that included food, repair parts, equipment, bombs, ammo, paint, solvents and many other items. In storing some of these items we came in contact with orange painted leaking 55 gallon drums/barrels of Agent Orange.

    In order to properly store the items we were in the process of attempting to store, we had to physically heft, slide, push, shove and otherwise wrestle the leaking drums out of the way and someplace else in the storage area. In doing this our clothes became soaked in the concentrated for of Agent Orange directly from the drums/barrels, we had it on our skin, in our hair on our clothes and could not take the time to change clothes and shower, so we worked with it on us throughout our twelve hour shifts...

    There are many so called "Blue Water" sailors that did in fact come in direct contact with Agent Orange in its concentrated form, right out of the barrel, while on board Aircraft Carriers and other ships that were supposedly never exposted to Agent Orange...that is just not true...

    And if the stuff was in leaking drums, as it was, how many other sailors managed to come in contact with the stuff while on board a "Blue Water" ship during that time frame and possibly before and after without even know it?

    How does a "Blue Water" Sailor prove that the disease/disability he is suffering with was caused by exposure to Agent Orange that he did infact come in contact with on board a ship that is considered never to have been exposed to Agent Orange? That is a difficult question to answer.

    How can the USA/VA be fair to those people who suffeer with Agent Orange caused disease yet prevent others who were not exposed take advantage of the system? That's a pretty difficult problem to solve. I am not smart enough to figure it out. I hope someone is, because I have been diagnosed with type II diabetes and this disease does not run in my family.

    VNVets said...

    Liam,

    As much as I'd like to agree with you, i have to point out a couple of things.

    First, this post is over two years old. That bill died last year, never making it out of committee.

    Second, while you may have had to move around leaking orange-painted barrels, they did not have Agent Orange in them.

    By contract, the barrels containing herbicides were painted basic black, and no warnings or other markings were permitted under threat of criminal action.

    A colored band was painted around the barrel to signify which of the rainbow herbicides was in the container, the only way a container could be identified.

    Third, the spraying stopped in 1972.

    Fourth, and most important, Agent Orange and the other tactical herbicides were not stored or carried on US Navy ships, nor were spray missions launched from the decks of US Navy ships.

    What you saw was simply, not a tactical herbicide. That does not mean that you were not exposed to asome other toxic chemical, but it was not Agent Orange or any of the other tactical herbicides sprayed in Vietnam.

    A significant and detailed record of Operation Ranch Hand [the Air Force herbicide spray missions] is in a soon to be released study by Dr. Jeanne Stellman, of Columbia University, in which ALL missions were charted documented by time, date, and longitude and latitude of start and end of each run, which herbicides were used, and any accidents involved.

    In a report on this given by Dr. Stellman to the IOM Committee last fall, she pointed out that herbicides were carried to Vietnam in Merchant ships, and USNS ships. USNS ships are ncommissioned bessels contracted by the US Navy for various duties including fleet refueling and replenishment, and cargo and personnel transport.

    For more information and help on this and on your claim, we recommend that you join VASVW by clicking the link in the orange VASVW Logo at the top of the left column. We can use your help and I'm sure we can help you. Once you click the logo, follow the directions.

    Whatever you do, don't give up the fight.

    VNVets

    Liam said...

    Another dumb question:

    While waiting for my ship to show up in Subic Bay, I was berthed aboard the barracks ship USS Benewah in Subic bay for two weeks...I hated it.

    At any rate, the Benewah is one of the "Blue Water" ships on the VA's list of "Blue Water" ships that is considered to have received sufficient exposure to Agent Orange to warrant the sailors on board while in Viet Nam, consideration relative to diseases caused by Agent Orange.

    As stated, when I was on the Benewah it was used as a barracks in Subic Bay...could the sailors on board received enough exposure to the residuals of Agent Orange to develop a disease caused by the herbicide?

    Unlike most US Naval ships, the Benewah was not in good repair and it was not kept clean. It stank so bad I dreaded having to be on board to have a place to sleep.

    Reference your previous note: The barrels I spoke of were painted orange and did in fact reflect "agent orange" and an FSN. Either it was agent orange or someone had a really bad sense of humor.

    VNVets said...

    All I can tell you about the Benewah is that the VA reports that it perated primarily or exclusively on Vietnam's inland waterways. I'm guessing they have the dates. Go for it. You've got nothing to lose.

    As for your barrels, I can assure you that it was not Agent Orange. The barrels were NOT marked, nor were they painted other than a colored band.

    Now that information comes from testimony in Federal Court. The case is Winters vs. Diamond Shamrock. Feel free to look it up.

    VNVets

    VNVets said...

    This post is over two years old so we are closing comments on the board.

    Further inquiries about this post should be made by clicking the "email me" link near the top of the left column.

    Visit VNVets Blog to get the latest news...

    http://vnvets.blogspot.com/

    VNVets

    aethomasthomas said...

    We were awarded 3 Vietnam Awards and 2 combat awards, I have had 4-5 Ischemich Strokes and 1 Heart Attack. What more does it take?

    VNVets said...

    Mr. Thomas, as a fellow member of DESRON 12, I have to inform you that this post to which you commented is almost 4 years old and was closed for commenting 2 years ago. I suggest you copy and past this address in your browser and catch up on the goings on for the BWN:

    http://VNVets.blogspot.com

    VNVets