VSOs Push Back Against Blue Water Navy Comments

VSOs Push Back Against Blue Water Navy Comments
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Julie Matyascik / Released

A number of military service organizations, including the Military Officers Association of America, are pushing back against VA Secretary Robert Wilkie for his “inaccurate” and “misleading” statements made in a letter concerning health benefits for Blue Water Navy veterans who served in Vietnam.

Wilkie's letter, addressed to the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, was an attempt to scuttle legislation, already approved in the House, that would add Blue Water Navy vets to the presumptive list of Agent Orange exposure. Approximately 90,000 veterans who served aboard ships off the coast of Vietnam could be included in this measure.

The Military Coalition, a group made of service member and veteran organizations, countered with its own letter to the committee on Sept. 19, urging the Senate leaders to move forward with the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017.

[READ THE LETTER: The Military Coalition's Message to Senate Veterans' Affairs]

Wilkie's letter “is inaccurate and misstates key facts,” the Coalition wrote. “You deserve to be fully informed and the Veterans deserve to be heard on this important matter.”

Among Wilkie's claims was a comment this measure would create a backlog and jeopardize gains made to control the VA's workload.

“This argument is akin to the Secretary positing that taking care of elderly, disabled veterans would be too much work, so it would be helpful to VA if Congress would instead continue to deny these veterans the benefits,” the letter reads. “This rationale is an illegitimate basis upon which to oppose this, or any, veteran benefit legislation.”

The Military Coalition also took issue with Wilkie's claims that “disabled veterans would be negatively and disproportionately impacted by modified funding fees for VA-guaranteed home loans.”

“This is partly false and totally misleading because it fails to make clear that all disabled veterans (not only those who are rated 'permanent and total') are exempt from fees for loans below the “jumbo loan” limit, currently ranging between $453,100 and $679,650 depending upon the geographic area,” the Coalition stated. “VA failed to clarify the types of VA Home Loans provided, which would more accurately inform the impact. …. Congress should not accept VA's speculative and unsupported assertion.”

The letter also indicates Wilkie's $5.5 billion cost estimate for the legislation is dramatically high. The coalition said Congress should rely on the Congressional Budget Office, which can obtain the estimated number of people eligible for the benefit.

“It is undisputed that these veterans are suffering and have suffered for decades, with significant strain and sacrifice by their caregivers,” according to the letter. “There is no more time to waste.”

Amanda Dolasinski is MOAA's staff writer. She can be reached at amandad@moaa.org. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMOAA.