As this year comes to a close, we are already looking ahead to another year of advocating for our nation’s veterans. I want to encourage one particular group of veterans who have waited far too long in their search for benefits—Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans—to submit their claims as soon as possible.
This past summer, President Donald Trump signed the long-awaited Blue Water Vietnam Veterans Act into law, expanding benefits for those potentially exposed to Agent Orange while serving on open-sea ships off the coast of Vietnam during the war. But just days after the bill was signed into law, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie ordered a blanket stay on these claims, further delaying benefits and compensation for thousands of veterans until Jan. 1, 2020.
DAV does not support the VA’s stay, and we continue to call on them to expedite these claims.
Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans have waited long enough—decades in some cases—for justice. It was, and remains, our position that the Procopio v. Wilkie court decision made earlier in the year grants the VA the authority to begin processing these claims, and there’s no justifiable reason why the department should wait to do so. The VA could, and should, have been processing these claims for several months now, providing these veterans the opportunity to receive life-saving health care and other benefits.
It may not yet be the new year, but that doesn’t mean eligible Blue Water Navy veterans and their survivors should wait to file a claim. We urge anyone who believes they may be due these benefits to contact a DAV benefits advocate and file a claim as soon as possible, even if they’ve been denied a claim for Agent Orange exposure in the past.
Keep in mind that priority will be given to veterans who are at least 85 years old or those with more severe, life-threatening ailments. The bottom line is, the sooner those claims are put in, the sooner veterans can begin receiving the benefits and recognition they’ve earned during their wartime service.
DAV’s national service officers are ready to help these distinctive veterans who have found themselves fighting for benefits for nearly a lifetime.
At our 98th annual national convention in Orlando, Fla., Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Byrne pledged that the VA will be ready on the first day of the year to begin resolving Blue Water Navy veterans’ claims. If for some reason they don’t, DAV will be there holding their feet to the fire—because our veterans deserve nothing less.