A recent letter from Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie to the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee marked the latest VA effort to scuttle proposed legislation that would extend benefits available to Blue Water Navy veterans of the Vietnam War.
Wilkie's letter, outlined in a Military Times report, calls into question the scientific evidence behind the proposal, which would allow those who served aboard ships off the coast of Vietnam to claim presumptive exposure to Agent Orange, which is connected to a variety of cancers and other long-term illnesses.
It also takes issue with the cost of the legislation; the House bill states that a new fee on some VA loans would raise about $1.1 billion over 10 years to cover costs, per Military Times, but Wilkie's letter puts the cost at more than $5.5 billion.
MOAA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins (USAF, Ret.) vowed to continue to advocate for these Blue Water veterans.
“This is a very disappointing turn of events and frankly, MOAA sees VA's attempt to contest the blue water legislation as breaking trust with not only the veterans dealing with these debilitating conditions, but likely to further erode the faith and confidence veterans in general have with VA as an institution, at a critical time when VA is struggling to rebuild its image among veterans they serve,” Atkins said. “MOAA intends to work with our veteran and military service organization partners, along with the VA, to find an equitable solution for those veterans impacted by their service during the Vietnam era.”
MOAA worked with Congress to pass the House version of the Blue Water Navy legislation in June. That legislation would cover more than 90,000 sea service members.
Related reading: Vet Realtor Pulls Alarm on Plan to Fund 'Blue-Water Navy' Bill
Wilkie requested that senators put a hold on the legislation until an ongoing VA study comparing the health of Vietnam War veterans with those of a similar age who did not deploy, Stars and Stripes reported. That report is set to be published in late 2019.
Amanda Dolasinski is MOAA's staff writer. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMOAA.