“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.” — George Washington
Diabetes, Hodgkin’s disease, chronic B-cell leukemias, ischemic heart disease, chloracne, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, respiratory cancer, and soft-tissue sarcomas are just of few of the health challenges Vietnam veterans are facing. Each of them has a direct link to exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin.
Most Vietnam veterans are in their mid-60’s and older, and there are those among us who have been fighting these diseases for years — sometimes decades. After all these years and study after study and endless hearings, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs refuses to acknowledge the science that shows the route between Agent Orange exposure and these diseases. There has been no legitimate scientific dispute of the connection between exposure to the dioxin in Agent Orange, and a long and ever-expanding list of medical conditions.
43 Years Later, 20,000 More Deaths
The Vietnam War has been over for 43 years. Isn’t four decades of research, eye-witness testimony, and an estimated 20,000 deaths of the approximately 90,000 U.S. Navy Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange enough evidence for the government to own up to its responsibility and take care of these veterans in their final years?
What is wrong with these people?
Just last year former Valley Congressman David Valadao managed to persuade 381 of his fellow House members to unanimously support H.R. 299, the “Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018.” The bill addressed the failure to include the so-called “Blue Water Navy” veterans in the provisions of the 1991 Agent Orange Act.
The bill died in the Senate because Mike Enzi (R-MT) and Mike Lee (R-UT) thought the $5 billion it would cost was too much for the budget to bear. Enzi objected, citing cost concerns, and saying that it would cause “budgetary and operational pressures … at the VA.” Ironically this is about the same dollar amount requested by President Trump for his wall.
Their action has sentenced to death thousands of U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and FMF Marine Vietnam veterans who served in the waters off Vietnam during the war and were exposed to the toxic residue of chemical warfare, Agent Orange/dioxin. Their only crime was answering the call of duty to their nation, more than can be said for most members of Congress.
Despite the science and despite the support from both Republicans and Democrats in both houses of Congress, Enzi and Lee prevented the Senate from voting on H.R. 299.
Watch: What Is Agent Orange?
VA Secretary Turns His Back on Vietnam Vets
In early September VA Secretary Robert Wilkie wrote to Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Johnny Isakson (R-GA) with his objections to the bill. He claimed the science didn’t support extending benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans because exposure levels cannot be determined, and the potency of dioxins sprayed over land had become so diminished so as not to affect personnel at sea. Wilkie also complained that passage of H.R. 299 would slow efforts to end a backlog of VA compensation claim appeals.
Wilkie has turned his back on those he was appointed to serve. His objections are not based on any objective evidence and his refusal vandalizes the motto on the bronze plaque at the front entrance of the VA Central Office in Washington, D.C. — “To Care for Him Who Shall Have Borne the Battle, and His Widow, and His Orphan.”
It reverses the pledge of his predecessor, Dr. David Shulkin, to “do the right thing.”
While Congress Fiddles, More Will Die
Before Congress takes this issue up again, dozens, hundreds, perhaps thousands more of our friends and family members will die waiting for action.
Because of David Valadao, they had a fighting chance to receive the benefits they earned by their honorable service to our nation. “Thanks for your service,” is an insult coming from those who turned their backs on the documented suffering of their constituents.
In the opening days of the 116th Congress, Mark Takano (D-CA41), the newly elected Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has resubmitted H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019.
“The fact that politics got in the way of our duty to care for veterans affected by toxic exposure is a disservice to the 90,000 Navy veterans who served in the coastal waters of Vietnam, and an insult to all veterans who served with the expectation that their country would care for them if they were wounded while serving,” Takano said.
As we begin the new year, we can only hope the 116th Congress will not, “Deny, deny until all the veterans die.”
News Item: US Army 6,500 troops short, even after spending an extra $200 million on bonuses and lowering standards to let in more troops with conduct or health issues.
About the Author
Jim Doyle of Fresno is a freelance writer and veterans advocate.