Friday, June 19, 2015

NDAA Passes Senate with BWN Amendment: Back to the House!

Yesterday, the US Senate passed the National Defense Appropriations Act for this coming Fiscal Year.  It included an amendment to an amendment to an amendment [etc.].

Here is THE Amendment:
SA 1892. Mr. DAINES (for himself and Mrs. Gillibrand) submitted an amendment intended to be proposed to amendment SA 1463 proposed by Mr. McCain to the bill H.R. 1735, to authorize appropriations for fiscal year 2016 for military activities of the Department of Defense, for military construction, and for defense activities of the Department of Energy, to prescribe military personnel strengths for such fiscal year, and for other purposes; which was ordered to lie on the table; as follows:

At the end of subtitle G of title X, add the following:

SEC. 1085. CLARIFICATION OF PRESUMPTIONS OF EXPOSURE FOR VETERANS WHO SERVED IN VICINITY OF REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM.

(a) Compensation.--Subsections (a)(1) and (f) of section 1116 of title 38, United States Code, are amended by inserting ``(including the territorial seas of such Republic)'' after ``served in the Republic of Vietnam'' each place it appears.
(b) Health Care.--Section 1710(e)(4) of such title is amended by inserting ``(including the territorial seas of such Republic)'' after ``served on active duty in the Republic of Vietnam''.
(c) Effective Date.--The amendments made by subsections (a) and (b) shall take effect as of September 25, 1985.
(d) Offset.--Increased Government expenditures resulting from enactment of this section shall be paid from savings achieved by section 605 of this Act.
The Senate, having passed the bill with changes to the House version passed in May, now will send the bill back to the House to either accept the changes, reject the changes, or call for a conference committee of Representatives and Senators to hash out the differences [the most likely scenario].

That said, if and when the NDAA passes and it still contains the amendment shown above as written, it will not go into effect until October 1, 2015, which is the start of the next [2016] Federal Fiscal Year.  The VA should use the intervening time to put the policy change out in the Federal Register for public review and comments, usually for 60-90 days before finalizing the policy change and instituting the change into their policy manual, which will also require a period of public comment.

Do not expect the VA to move quickly on this.  Their most recent Agent Orange News Letter [Summer, 2015] makes clear the VA's stand on Blue Water Navy exposure:
  • Blue Water Veterans
    The deep offshore waters of Vietnam are often referred to as “blue waters” and naval vessels operating on them are referred to as the Blue Water Navy. Blue Water Veterans are not presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides unless they actually set foot in Vietnam (including for liberal leave or work detail) or served aboard ships on its inland waterways between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975. The Blue Water Navy operated large ships which were used to carry out their missions along the Vietnam coastal waters. Some offshore ships including hospital ships, harbor repair ships, mine sweepers, seaplane tenders, and destroyers sent crew members ashore. Veterans aboard these ships who can show they were on shore will be eligible for the presumption of exposure.
  • U.S. Navy and Coast Guard Ships in Vietnam
    VA maintains an evolving list of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships associated with military service in Vietnam and possible exposure to Agent Orange based on military records. This includes ships of the Brown Water and Blue Water Navy that operated on Vietnam’s inland waterways, docked to shore or pier in Vietnam, or that delivered supplies or troops ashore. The alphabetized ships list is available at www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/shiplist/index.asp.
No surprise there.  Look for the policy change to be finalized by next spring.

That said, if you have let your claim lapse, get it going again.  Use any legitimate reason to get it going...change in medical conditions, new evidence that you went ashore, new evidence that your ship went up a river or docked in Vietnam.  If your claim is still open at the Regional Office level, and it has been denied, or is denied between now and when the VA institutes the change, DO NOT APPEAL!  Ask for a Regional Office Review.  It keeps your claim alive at the RO for another year, while an appeal will tie your claim up in the appeals process for two to four years.  If your claim was denied more than a year ago without further action, refile immediately.

Note, the bill is back dated to 1985, so any claim filed after that September 25, 1985 can be reopened and taked back to the earliest date of the claim.  

This would apply to widows and/or dependents of Veterans who had their claim denied, and then died.  Survivors of such Veterans can file for the benefits to be established from the  claim date to the date of death and then file for Survivors benefits.

Remember, always, always, ALWAYS make copies of your documents, mark them with your claim number and name and address, and the date submitted.  Index all the documents you submit and list that index out on a sheet of paper on top of the documents you submit, and mark it with the same info as above.  If you hand carry the documents to the Regional Office, ask for a signed, written receipt.  If you mail them, mail it Registered Mail - Return Receipt Requested. Then the signed receipt will be sent back to you by the Post Office.

Time to "Turn To" again!  We've never been this close.  Get a hold of your Representative and tell him to keep the BWN amendment in the NDAA when they pass it.  I expect the good folks at the Fleet Reserve Association to modify the message on their CapWiz page so you can contact your US Representative through them with a great deal of ease.

We will post it when it happens. 

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 Obama 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 © 2005-2015: VNVets Blog -- Now in our Eleventh Year of Service to Veterans; All Rights Reserved. Reprinting or copying of the contents of this blog without the express permission of the author is unlawful.