VFW Denounces Lone GOP Senator Holding Up Bill For 'Blue Water' Navy Vietnam Vets

news
US Air Force

The Veterans of Foreign Wars didn't mince words in its denunciation of Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) on Tuesday, who the group said had "obstructed" a bill for offshore Navy Vietnam Veterans suffering from illnesses stemming from Agent Orange exposure.


"My disappointment with Senator Enzi's obstruction is beyond measure, because what he did was fail to take care of forgotten veterans who were exposed to toxic substances, and he failed to take care of their children who sadly inherited a toxic legacy," VFW National Commander B.J. Lawrence said in a statement.

"The VFW nor its members will forget this."

The bill, known as the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, or H.R. 299, would extend eligibility for health care and disability benefits to service members who served aboard ships off the Vietnam coast. It had received backing from the VFW, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, and Paralyzed Veterans of America, which said in a joint statement in September that it provides "long-delayed justice" to aging veterans who "continue to suffer and die from illnesses that have already been legally and scientifically linked to Agent Orange exposure."

The bill passed the House 382-0 in June, but when it came up for unanimous consent in the Senate, Enzi raised his objection.

“On this bill, many of us have been made aware of the potential cost growth and the budgetary and operational pressures that would happen at the VA. They’re having a lot of problems, anyway," Enzi said, according to Stars & Stripes.

“There’s clearly more work to do just on figuring out the spending and administration of this and the deficit impacts this bill will have."

The VFW, however, wasn't buying the cost argument: "If we can afford to send veterans to war, it’s unacceptable that we can’t afford to take care of them when they return home wounded, ill or injured," Lawrence said in his statement.

In its joint statement, the veterans' groups cited a 2016 report from The National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine), which said, "it is generally acknowledged that estuarine waters became contaminated with Herbicides and dioxin as a result of shoreline spraying and runoff from spraying on land, particularly in heavily sprayed areas that experienced frequent flooding" while adding that there was no scientific basis for discriminating between veterans exposed to the toxin on land or at sea.

And as ProPublica wrote in 2015:

The chemicals — whether from runoff, leakage or dumping — could have ended up in the rivers and harbors, which flowed out to U.S. ships at sea. The Navy ships sucked in seawater and distilled it for use, possibly exposing thousands of sailors to the chemical dioxin.

A 2011 report by the Institute of Medicine found that this process not only would have left the chemical in desalinated water, but would have enriched it by 10 times. Smith says while he doesn’t think he came into direct contact with Agent Orange like many ground troops and Vietnamese, he believes that he and his fellow sailors drank and showered in contaminated water.

Although Vietnam veterans who served on land during the war are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange, about 52,000 served offshore and are not currently eligible for that presumption. The Congressional Budget Office estimated roughly 30,000 of those veterans were still alive and, if the bill passed, would be eligible for disability compensation and survivors' benefits would be given to their families, costing the government about $1.1 billion over the next 10 years.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could still save the bill if he schedules a vote before the 115th Congress finishes out its term within the next few days. The next Congress will have to start from scratch if it doesn't pass this year.

Dan Caldwell, the executive director of Concerned Veterans for America, and Jon Soltz, the chairman for VoteVets on MSNBC's Morning Joe on March 18 discussing their campaign to see Congress end America's Forever Wars. (MSNBC/Youtube)

Two veteran political action committees, one conservative, the other liberal, have spent millions fighting each other on various fronts, from Department of Veterans Affairs reform — what one group calls "choice" and the other calls "privatization" — to getting their pick of candidates into office.

But they've found common ground on at least one issue: It's time for Congress to have an open debate about ending the Forever Wars.

Read More Show Less

It may be one of the most important Air Force installations in the continental United States, but Offutt Air Force Base has proven no match for the full fury of the Missouri River.

Read More Show Less

Up to 1,000 U.S. troops could remain in Syria — more than twice as many as originally announced, according to the Wall Street Journal.

President Donald Trump initially announced in December that he would withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, but U.S. officials said in February that several hundred troops are expected to remain in Syria to create a "safe zone" along the border with Turkey and to man the al-Tanf garrison, which is located along a supply rote that would allow Iran to supply its proxies in Syria.

On Sunday, Dion Nissenbaum and Nancy Youssef of the Wall Street Journal first reported that the U.S. military is considering leaving as many as 1,000 troops in Syria to prevent Turkey from attacking the United States' Kurdish allies. So far, the United States and Turkey have failed to agree on how to secure the proposed safe zone.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Army Sgt. James R. Moore of Portland, Ore., a logitstics NCO with the 642nd Regional Support Group, shoots at the Fort Pickett rifle range as part of the Mortuary Affairs Exercise Aug. 15, 2018. (U.S. Army/Sgt. 1st Class Gary A. Witte, 642nd Regional Support Group)

Editor's Note: This article by Matthew Cox originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The head of Army Materiel Command said recently that he is putting a high priority on munitions readiness to make sure Army units are prepared for the next war.

Read More Show Less
White supremacists take part in a march the night before the 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville, VA. (Associated Press photo)

Seven U.S. service members have reportedly been identified as members of Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group founded by a Marine veteran and tied to the 2017 Charlottesville rally, according to leaked online chat logs examined by HuffPost.

Read More Show Less