Sunday, March 06, 2016

VFW goes to bat for BWN and Korean DMZ Vets

Our friends at the VFW went to bat for us in a recent Joint Session of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs.  Here is the relevant testimony by VFW National Commander John Biedrzycki:

"Blue Water Navy:  The VFW strongly supports S. 681 and H.R. 969, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015, which would require VA to include territorial seas as part of the Republic of Vietnam, extending presumptive service connection and health care for Agent Orange-related illnesses to Blue Water Navy veterans.

In response to a recent Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims decision, VA was required to re-evaluate its “arbitrary and capricious” definition of inland waterways. Last month, VA issues a factsheet which detailed its modified interpretation of inland waterway for purposes of determining Agent Orange exposure. However, we do not feel that VA’s modified interpretation meets the intent of the Gray v. McDonald decision.

We have long maintained that it is arbitrary and unjust that veterans who served aboard ships in the coastal waters of Vietnam are denied presumptive benefits associated with Agent Orange exposure. We are deeply disappointment that VA’s modified interpretation of inland waterways continues this practice. We firmly believe that VA’s modified interpretation will continue to exclude veterans that were exposed to significant levels of toxins who must be granted the same presumption of service connection as their counterparts who served on the mainland of Vietnam. For this reason, the VFW continues to urge Congress to swiftly pass the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015.

Korean DMZ:  DOD and VA have identified particular units assigned to areas along or near the demilitarized zone(DMZ) in the Republic of Korea from April 1, 1968, to August 31, 1971, that are presumed to have been exposed to toxic herbicides. These dates, however, exclude many veterans whose duties along the Korean DMZ exposed them to Agent Orange, and who now suffer from diseases and illnesses that have been directly linked to the chemical defoliant.

In fact, the dates acknowledged by VA contradict those established by Congress. In Public Law 108-183, the Veterans Benefits Act of 2003, Congress authorized VA to expand benefits to the children of veterans who were exposed to toxic herbicides during their service along the Korean DMZ between September 1, 1967, and August 31, 1971. The Senate and House Committees on Veterans’ Affairs used evidence obtained by Committee staff and information provided by DOD to establish presumptive dates that incorporate the earliest use of toxic herbicides near the Korean DMZ, and to account for the half-life of such toxins. However, when aligning its compensation regulations regarding presumptive herbicide exposure for veterans who served in or near the Korean DMZ to the Veterans Benefits Act of 2003, the VA ignored the law and did not extend compensation benefits to veterans who served near the Korean DMZ before April 1, 1968.VA must correct this inequity and align its presumptive date’s with Congressional intent.

The VFW also believes that the end date recognized by VA and DOD and established by Congress does not accurately account for the half-life of Agent Orange in the soil of sprayed areas. DOD asserts that use of Agent Orange near the Korean DMZ ceased in 1969. When Congress and VA set presumption dates for Korean DMZ veterans, they expanded the end date beyond 1969 to account for residual exposure.  Although the half-life of 2,3,7,8 TCDD –a human carcinogen found in Agent Orange –may be between one year and three years on soil surfaces, studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture have determined that TCDD is resistant to biodegradation and can remain in soil interiors for up to 12 years. A similar study conducted by the Canadian company Hatfield Consultants Ltd., in collaboration with the government of Vietnam, found a “hot spot” of TCDD contamination at a former U.S. Special Forces base in the Aluoi Valley in 1997.The soil found in this abandoned base continued to exceed Canadian health standards more than 30 years after initial spraying of Agent Orange in the area."

We exposed the problem with the dates for the Korean DMZ Veterans years ago, and the VA did make a change, but it was not nearly enough.  As you can see, more needs to be done.  When the VA makes a decision that is wholly without logic, as they have in this case for the Korean DMZ Vets, and in the BWN's Gray v. McDonald decision, they need to be held to account. 

If you are not a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and are eligible to be a member, then please click here to join this fine organization.

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

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