An estimated 90,000 veterans who served in the Vietnam War are closer to receiving medical benefits for presumed exposure to Agent Orange. The U.S. Senate has passed legislation which would open VA medical care for Agent Orange-related illnesses to Blue Water Navy veterans.
Agent Orange is a defoliant used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War to wipe out vegetation which served as cover for enemy fighters. The chemical, which includes dioxin, has since been linked to illnesses including cancer, Parkinson's disease and heart ailments.
Ground-based veterans suffering various illnesses have, for years, been receiving VA medical benefits for Agent Orange exposure. Blue Water veterans, however, have been left out even though many have argued that they, too, were exposed to the carcinogen.
"Some of these guys ran in the Delta. They were the River Rats, who ran the PTF boats up and down the coast, and they got the spray," said Pat Conner, a Navy veteran and a docent at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park. "There was a gentleman here that was on a grenade-launching ship that launched into Viet Cong, and he's 100 percent disabled now because of Agent Orange."
Under the legislation passed by the U.S. Senate last week, VA medical benefits for presumed Agent Orange exposure will be extended to Blue Water Navy vets who served within 12 nautical miles of the Vietnamese coast.
The House previously passed legislation codifying a court order extending the benefits to Blue Water veterans. The next step is a signature by President Donald Trump but it was unknown as of last week when legislation would arrive on his desk.
In the meantime, during a ceremony honoring Vietnam War veterans at the Naval and Military Park, board chair Terry McGuire urged all Blue Water veteran eligible for Agent Orange-related coverage upon the president's signature to file their claims as soon as possible.
"Please put in your claim by the first of this coming year," he urged the audience. "That way, you'll be grandfathered in, in case there's any changes or modifications to that legislation."