The Honorable Donald J. Trump, President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
On behalf of the nation’s leading veterans service organizations, we respectfully request a meeting with you to ask for your personal intercession to end the wait for thousands of Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans suffering, some dying, from diseases caused by Agent Orange, but who cannot receive full VA benefits and health care because of decisions and actions taken by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Earlier this year, on June 25th, the entire veterans community celebrated after Congress passed, and you signed into law, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 (P.L. 116-23), to provide overdue justice for Navy veterans who had been blocked from receiving Agent Orange benefits because their service was in the waters offshore Vietnam. However, less than a week later, our joy turned to dismay when VA Secretary Wilkie issued a “stay” that stopped all processing of all benefit claims by Blue Water Navy veterans, including those already eligible to receive Agent Orange-related benefits based on a Federal Court decision (Procopio v. Wilkie) issued in January.
In response, we wrote to Secretary Wilkie on July 24th calling on him to lift or modify the blanket stay placed on all Blue Water claims, and immediately begin processing, adjudicating, granting and paying veterans for Agent Orange-related claims. We appealed on behalf of thousands of aging and ill Vietnam veterans and their survivors, many of whom have waited decades for the recognition that they too were exposed to Agent Orange and suffered negative health consequences as a result. We argued that it was unacceptable to force them to wait at least another six months for potentially life-changing benefits when VA has the authority to grant their claims right now. In particular, we called for immediate action on claims by Blue Water Navy veterans who already have sufficient evidence of record to grant benefits based on the Court’s Procopio decision, as well as those veterans who are terminally ill, over the age of 85 or impoverished. Unfortunately, the Secretary’s implementation of the law that Congress passed, and that you signed, placed a blanket stay on all Blue Water Navy claims, even those that could have been granted based on the Procopio decision.
Mr. President, we do not believe it was Congress’ intention, nor do we believe it was yours, to prevent every single Blue Water Navy veteran from receiving Agent Orange benefits for at least six months. Although the law does include a provision stating that, “The Secretary may stay a claim…,” it clearly does not state that the Secretary “must” stay all pending Blue Water claims. The reality is that this deeply flawed action will delay, and in some cases, deny benefits for veterans who will pass away before we reach January 1st next year. Further, there are widows whose spouses have died this year – after the Court’s ruling and after the law was enacted – who have no certainty whether they will receive survivor benefits. Mr. President, we think you will agree that these men and women deserve better from their government. As Chief Executive, charged with faithfully executing the nation’s laws, you have the authority and the power to change this decision and ensure that all those who served receive the full benefits they are entitled to under the law.
Although the injustice to Blue Water Navy veterans did not begin under your Administration, as President, you can end their wait today.
Mr. President, over the past two years, there have been some tremendous victories for veterans of all eras. However, for Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans suffering from Agent Orange-related diseases, these victories still ring hollow. We hope that, after meeting with us and hearing our arguments on behalf of our fellow veterans, you will take decisive actions to finally end the wait, and make sure all generations of veterans receive all of the recognition, honor and benefits they have earned through their service.
Cc: The Honorable Robert L. Wilkie, Secretary of Veterans Affairs