By MOAA Staff
MOAA and other major veterans advocacy groups have asked VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to reconsider his department’s decision to delay processing benefits claims from thousands of veterans who served in the waters off Vietnam.
These Blue Water Navy veterans – backed by MOAA and other groups — recently earned two major, long-fought victories that established presumptive exposure to herbicides and allowed them to claim benefits for a number of related illnesses. The first came in court, with a favorable ruling in Procopio vs. Wilkie. The second came with the passage of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which was signed by President Donald Trump last month.
That bill gives VA until Jan. 1, 2020, to begin deciding claims, per a VA blog post, but MOAA and other groups wrote in a July 24 letter to Wilkie that it doesn’t require such a delay, nor does it supersede the requirements laid out in the Procopio case.
The move “will unnecessarily delay the provision of VA health care and benefits to thousands of aging and ill Vietnam veterans and survivors,” says the letter, which was signed by MOAA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret) along with leaders from Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America, AMVETS, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and the Fleet Reserve Association.
“Many of these men and women have waited decades for the recognition that they too were exposed to Agent Orange and suffered negative health consequences as a result,” says the letter. “It is unacceptable to force them to wait another six months … when VA has the authority to grant their claims now.”
[RELATED: VA Will Begin Deciding Blue Water Navy Benefit Claims on Jan. 1]
The letter also requests VA officials target claims made by terminally ill or impoverished veterans, and by veterans over age 85, for expedited processing. It notes that the requests may place an administrative burden on the agency and pledges support for more resources; copies of the letter went to the lawmakers who head both the House and Senate Committees on Veterans' Affairs, which would be in line to provide such resources.
Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, and other Democrats on the committee sent a July 23 letter to Wilkie stating they were "ready to assist VA to ensure the success of this long-awaited Act" and encouraging the agency to "to proactively communicate with Congress and begin sharing information about your implementation plan for Blue Water claims." MOAA has supported these efforts by legislators, along with their request for more details on a comprehensive implementation plan for the benefit.