VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told senators on Tuesday that the department is not recommending an appeal to the Procopio vs. Wilkie decision, a Jan. 29 court ruling that restored benefits to veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during their service off the coast of Vietnam.
Until Tuesday's Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing, VA officials were silent about whether they intended to contest the decision by appealing to the Supreme Court before the window for appeal closed at the end of April. Prior to the announcement, MOAA and other veteran advocacy groups wrote to President Donald Trump requesting that he tell the Department of Justice not to appeal the ruling.
[CALL TO ACTION: Ask Your Legislators to Support Blue Water Navy Veterans]
Estimates for the number of Blue Water veterans vary, but the Congressional Budget Office estimated in December that extending benefits to those veterans would increase direct spending by $1.2 billion between 2019 and 2028, although retroactive payments, compensation for survivors, and other associated costs could add to that figure.
If the VA follows through on Wilkie's statement, the administration will be responsible for that bill in coming years, requiring action from Congress to appropriate the funding to cover the influx of new disability claims.
The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, H.R. 299, is another way Congress could choose to address the cost of benefits for Blue Water Navy veterans. The bill includes adjustments to the VA home loan program, increasing the limit on the amount of loans eligible for the program and temporarily extending funding fees for veterans without disabilities.
MOAA remains active and engaged on the needs of Blue Water Navy veterans, and we encourage Congress to provide the VA with all the necessary resources to support implementation of these benefits as soon as possible.