Important Agent Orange Updates
Several very important matters related to Agent Orange exposure have recently developed and they all have near term consequences. Since I send these reports out to many veterans of all services, take the time to read through this to the end to determine if any of it pertains to your circumstance.
1. The Agent Orange Act of 1991 is set to expire next month. Here is what the act does…
Agent Orange Act of 1991 establishes provisions for the National Academy of Sciences to analyze and summarize scientific evidence regarding presumptive military service exposure to defoliants, dioxins and herbicides, better known as Agent Orange, during the Vietnam War era. The United States Statute endorses an observation of human medical conditions directly related to non-Hodgkin lymphoma, soft-tissue sarcoma, chloracne, and consistent acneform diseases for military personnel who served in the overseas Vietnamese region. The Act of Congress ratifies a medical research compilation of voluntarily contributed blood and tissue samples provided by Vietnam-era veterans serving in Southeast Asia between 1961 and 1975. The H.R. 556 legislation was passed by the 102nd United States Congressional session and enacted into law by the 41st President of the United States George H.W. Bush on February 6, 1991.
If the Act is not extended the VA will no longer be required to follow the NAS scientific evidence in determining compensation for U.S. servicemen exposed to AO in Vietnam and elsewhere. It is likely that these servicemen will lose their eligibility for compensation.
However, Congressman Tim Walz (Minn.) has recently introduced the “Agent Orange Extension Act,” (H.R. 3423), which will extend benefits from the Agent Orange Act for two years, giving the NAS enough time to finish its report and for the VA to review its findings.
The NAS is expected to publish its final report on Agent Orange exposure by March of 2016.
[Compiled from various sources]
2. Two weeks ago, the Fleet Reserve Association opened a survey to determine its members’ position on whether to support a suggested method of funding the “Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act” (HR-969 and S-681). Congressional leaders are looking for a monetary offset, and one suggestion would have all veterans receiving disability compensation to allow the VA to round down their benefit to the nearest dollar. For example, if you currently receive a check for $100.15, your payment would be rounded to $100, and the remaining $0.15 would be placed in a fund to pay for benefits for Blue Water Vietnam veterans affected by exposure to Agent Orange.
FRA has received well over 1,000 survey responses, and more than 73% indicated that they would be willing to round down their compensation checks in order to help blue water Vietnam veterans get the care they desperately need. The results of this survey will be reviewed by members of Congress and at the VA as well.
[Excerpted from FRA NewsBytes].
3. The Gray vs. McDonald case recently resulted in a verdict that required the VA to rewrite the description of certain internal Vietnam waters, such as Da Nang Harbor, that the VA had declared as not inland with regard to the presumption of exposure rule. Commander John Wells, USN (Ret), a lawyer, met with individuals at the Veterans Administration as a result of Senate interaction with the VA to try to establish a line of communication and mutual understanding of the Blue Water Navy issues.
The rewrite and distribution of the regulation was done without any notice to Commander Wells. In an underhanded way, the VA did rewrite the portion of the M21-1 "training manual" and distribute it internally to BVA judges. The descriptions still excluded the same bodies of water in a slightly reworded fashion. At least two cases of BWN veterans were denied coverage based on this new wording in the "training aid" manual.
When called on this, the VA Chief of Staff (and apparently the designated "spin doctor" for this issue) made the following response to Commander Wells of Military Veterans Advocacy:
Dear Commander Wells:
I apologize for the miscommunication you received regarding the revision of the Adjudication Procedures Manual related to Blue Water Navy Veterans. The revised manual attached to your email correspondence to Deputy Secretary Gibson was an internal draft that pre-dates your July 6th meeting with the Deputy Secretary. Secretary McDonald and Deputy Secretary Gibson are fully engaged in continued policy discussions within the Department related to Blue Water Navy. Future updates to this manual will be based on final decisions made by the Secretary. We value your partnership and we look forward to consulting with you regarding Agent Orange presumptions and Blue Water Navy Veterans.
Again, my apologies for the confusion and thank you for your commitment and continued service to our Nation’s Veterans.
Chief of Staff
Commander Wells now furnishes the following response to what was by the Veterans Administration an "error" with the supposedly internal draft:
Important Update on the Premature Distribution of the M21-1 change in response to Gray v. McDonald from Military-Veterans Advocacy:
At least two Blue Water Navy veterans were denied claims in whole or in part due to reliance by the Board of Veterans Appeals on the draft M21-1 regulation, identified as a training aid, that was prematurely and improperly furnished to the BVA. This morning, an e-mail went out to all Veterans Law Judges telling them to not rely on that “training aid.” The problem is that we do not know how many other veterans were improperly denied. We have asked the BVA to review their recent cases and vacate any decisions that improperly relied upon this training aid. They have not agreed to do so. It is important that if you are aware of any BWN veterans who have had their cases denied by the BVA within the last 45 days, based on this “training aid” to file a request for reconsideration or an appeal to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
Any veteran or VSO that needs more information should contact Military-Veterans Advocacy at: email@example.com
Apparently the only "miscommunication" was the fact that the rewrite was noticed outside of the VA. Errors like this certainly call into place the integrity of certain individuals in the management level of the VA.
Please keep this error by the VA in mind if you or any other service officers are serving any Blue Water Navy veterans with claims at this time.
[Forwarded by a member of the Military Veterans Advocacy].
4. Commentary. It seems to this three decade service officer that VA will do anything to frustrate the eligibility of over 400,000 Vietnam veterans who served off shore from receiving compensation for AO related conditions. It is comforting to know that other veterans will sacrifice small portion of their compensation to bring justice to these BWN comrades. But it is equally disheartening to know that the VA bureaucrats are like all the others in Washington and lie to us, and then they lie to us about lying to us. This is just awful
5. Recommendations. With all of the above information coinciding in such near term criticality I strongly recommend:
a. If you believe that you have any AO connected disease or condition, even if you are a BWN claimant, consider filing a service connected compensation claim to VA immediately through an accredited local service officer. If you don’t know what the AO related conditions are, go to the following web page: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/conditions/index.asp.
b. If you are a BWN claimant, especially one that served in Da Nang harbor, and you have had a claim denied in the past 45 days, contact Commander Wells at the above listed email address immediately.
Yours in service,