July 24, 2008 – The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman vowed Wednesday to push for the restoration of Agent Orange-related benefits and health care for Vietnam War veterans who served in the air and water of Vietnam but never set foot on land.
Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., said a bill he is sponsoring, HR 6562, would provide justice for sailors and airmen who have been denied Agent Orange claims because of a Department of Veterans Affairs policy that applies a so-called “boots-on-the-ground” rule for determining eligibility.
“If you were there, we should care,” Filner said at a press conference, where he was surrounded by Vietnam veterans.
The bill, introduced Tuesday, was referred to Filner’s committee. Filner said he intends to move the bill through the committee in September.
Filner said the bill would provide justice for the thousands of Vietnam veterans who are suffering from illnesses or disease known to be related to exposure to the herbicide used to defoliate the Vietnamese jungles. It also would send a message to younger veterans, he said. “If we don’t treat our Vietnam veterans right, then our active-duty people know that,” Filner said.
The bill, called the Agent Orange Equity Act, would accept service in the waters surrounding or the air over Vietnam as making a veteran eligible for benefits and health care if they have one of a long list of diseases presumed by the VA to be caused by exposure to toxin.
Sea service had made someone eligible until the VA changed the rules in 2002. The restriction was appealed through the courts, with the VA’s boots-on-the-ground policy prevailing.
William Davis, who served off the coast of Vietnam aboard the destroyer Fiske in 1966, said people who served on as many as 600 Navy ships would be helped by the legislation, although it is not clear how many might have illnesses or disease that would lead to their being covered.
Richard Weidman of Vietnam Veterans of America said the Bush administration appears to have lost interest in Vietnam veterans and Agent Orange because there are no research projects or studies under way to try to learn more about exposure to the toxin and its health effects.