After 16 Years, Congress May Finally Rectify A Putrid Disservice To Blue Water Navy Vets

Naval History and Heritage Command

Noxious fumes from a 16-year-old decision by federal bureaucrats are finally beginning to dissipate for the Navy’s so-called “Blue Water” vets. They may be on course to again receive benefits for their exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

Shame on officials at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for placing sailors in this predicament in the first place. A 2002 decision by the agency cynically elevated funding over science, making it tougher for vets to get health care decades after that misbegotten war.

It was as if too many of these sailors were still breathing, and the feds didn’t want to be on the hook to assist them. That ploy broke faith with our service members, who were harmed by the stuff our own country dumped on them.

A belated congressional reprieve emerged last week.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill restoring coverage for diseases tied to exposure from the herbicide. House members voted unanimously for the bill.

That’s rare in the highly charged, partisan arena Congress has become, and it’s an indication lawmakers knew just how badly they needed to act. They also provided a way to pay for the coverage.

The bill next goes to the Senate, where Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. and chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has said he’d prioritize the legislation.

It’s none too soon for the tens of thousands of Blue Water vets still alive, or for the spouses who may survive them and be eligible for benefits, too.

“We were certainly heartened” by the unanimous vote, John B. Wells told me Monday. He’s executive director of Military-Veterans Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that’s been fighting to restore benefits.

Wells is a retired Navy commander who was a chief engineer on several ships. He says he has documented proof of Agent Orange’s presence in Nha Trang Harbor, 20 years after the war.

Some background:

Blue Water vets didn’t set foot on Vietnamese soil, where the spraying of the herbicide defoliated the forest cover used by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces. Still, Agent Orange washed out to sea. There, Navy vessels sucked in potentially contaminated water and distilled it for use aboard ships. The process concentrated the toxin.

We now know, of course, that Agent Orange is linked to serious illnesses, including Type 2 diabetes, prostate cancer, ischemic heart disease and psychological problems.

Despite all of that, the VA in 2002 started denying ailing Blue Water Navy vets compensation for Agent Orange exposure.

It said – with a straight face – that the placement of a comma in the original legislation made a distinction between those who served on the ground in Vietnam, and those who served elsewhere.

That’s akin to thinking the herbicide would magically dissipate at the water’s edge. Or that its appearance in water would somehow neutralize it.

Let’s remember: The United States sprayed millions of gallons of this stuff during the Vietnam War. Agent Orange didn’t discriminate between U.S. servicemen or Viet Cong fighters, civilian peasants or warriors. The herbicide continues to exact a toll decades after the war’s end.

Yet, the VA has continued to make certain individuals jump through hoops to prove they were harmed by the herbicide.

The House has done its part, and I hope the Senate will follow. That’s little comfort for the vets who have suffered for years – both from the pernicious defoliant, and the VA officials who contemptuously denied them help.


©2018 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Benjamin Franklin nailed it when he said, "Fatigue is the best pillow." True story, Benny. There's nothing like pushing your body so far past exhaustion that you'd willingly, even longingly, take a nap on a concrete slab.

Take $75 off a Casper Mattress and $150 off a Wave Mattress with code TASKANDPURPOSE

And no one knows that better than military service members and we have the pictures to prove it.

Read More Show Less

A low-flying C-17 gave Nashville residents a fright on Friday when the aircraft made several unannounced passes over the city's bustling downtown.

Read More Show Less
George W. Bush/Instagram

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

Former President George W. Bush is calling for an end to the partial government shutdown, which is about to hit the one-month mark and is currently the longest shutdown in US history.

In an appeal made on Instagram, the 43rd president called on "leaders on both sides to put politics aside, come together, and end this shutdown." The caption was posted with an image of him and former First Lady Laura Bush giving pizza to their Secret Service detail.

Read More Show Less
Staff Sgt. Daniel Christopher Evans was arrested on Jan. 29, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Wilmington Police Department, North Carolina.)

A special operations Marine is due in court on March 7 after being arrested last year for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, Task & Purpose has learned.

Staff Sgt. Daniel Christopher Evans was arrested and charged with assault inflicting serious injury on July 29, 2018, according to Jennifer Dandron, a spokeswoman for police in Wilmington, North Carolina. Evans is currently assigned as a Critical Skills Operator with the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, according to the Marine Corps Personnel Locator.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Elyse Ping Medvigy conducts a call-for-fire during an artillery shoot south of Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2014. Medvigy, a fire support officer assigned to the 4th Infantry Division's Company D, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, is the first female company fire support officer to serve in an infantry brigade combat team supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston (Photo by U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston)

Following Trump's inauguration, some supporters of ground combat integration assumed he would quickly move to reinstate a ban on women in jobs like the infantry. When this did not happen, advocates breathed a collective sigh of relief, and hundreds of qualified women charted a course in history by entering the newly opened occupational fields.

So earlier this week when the Wall Street Journal published an editorial against women in ground combat by conservative political commentator Heather Mac Donald, the inclination of many ground combat integration supporters was to dismiss it outright. But given Trump's proclivity to make knee jerk policy decisions in response to falling approval ratings and the court's tradition of deference to the military when it comes to policies affecting good order and discipline, it would be unwise to assume the 2016 lifting of the ban on women in ground combat is a done deal.

Read More Show Less