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Old 07-17-2018, 05:34 PM
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Thumbs up Senate plans path ahead for ‘blue water Navy’ benefits fix

Senate plans path ahead for ‘blue water Navy’ benefits fix
By: Leo Shane III  4- hours ago
RE: https://www.militarytimes.com/vetera...-benefits-fix/

WASHINGTON — Senate lawmakers will start their work next month on legislation to extend disability benefits for nearly 90,000 veterans who worked around toxic chemicals during the Vietnam War but have been denied compensation for that exposure.

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee is planning an Aug. 1 hearing on the issue, one that committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., has called a “top priority” for the remainder of the year.

Last month, House lawmakers overwhelmingly approved legislation dealing with the plight of “blue water” Vietnam veterans, adding a new Veterans Affairs home loan fee to pay for the $1.1 billion needed to cover benefits costs.

Supporters of that measure had pushed for the Senate to quickly approve the measure, but Isakson has said he wants to hold public debate on the issue to ensure that lawmakers aren’t overlooking needed improvements to the proposal.

At issue are current VA regulations regarding veterans who served on ships off the coastline of Vietnam but never set foot in the country. Tens of thousands of those “blue water” veterans were exposed to Agent Orange and other chemical defoliants, which have led to rare cancers and other illnesses.

But under existing rules those veterans must provide proof of exposure to the chemicals to receive disability benefits. In contrast, troops who served on the mainland or patrolled inland rivers during the war are assumed to have been working with or near Agent Orange and are given special expedited status when filing disability benefits claims.

Lawmakers in recent years pushed to fix the oversight, but struggled with how to cover the costs. The compromise reached last month would add a new fee to veterans’ home loans that would cost a typical buyer about $350 over 10 years.

But nearly half of all borrowers — including disabled veterans — will be exempt from the fee.

The House-passed bill also extends presumptive exposure status to veterans who served in the Korean Peninsula Demilitarized Zone beginning in September 1967 and lasting until August 1971, the same end date for the Vietnam War.

And the measure makes several additional changes to the VA home loan program, including eliminating the cap on loans department officials can offer.

Senate lawmakers have expressed general support for the measure but thus far have been focused on the confirmation process for VA secretary nominee Robert Wilkie. That work is expected to be completed later this month.

Isakson said he hopes to move forward on the “blue water” fix in coming months but has not given a timeline on when the process may be completed. If the measure is signed into law, veterans will still likely have a months-long wait before VA officials establish procedures and rules for paying out the new benefits.

Photo Link: https://www.armytimes.com/resizer/WE...FTWKGIEKHQ.jpg

Troops of the U.S. First Cavalry Air Mobile Division leave the carrier USS Boxer aboard a landing craft on arrival Qui Nhon, Vietnam, on Sept. 12, 1965. Lawmakers are considering legislation to extend benefits to thousands of Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange aboard ships who served off the coast during the war. (AP)
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House passes benefits fix for ailing ‘blue water’ veterans, now awaits Senate’s move
By: Leo Shane III
RE: https://www.militarytimes.com/vetera...-senates-move/

Photo Link: https://www.armytimes.com/resizer/Ws...CXNYLQ2YBY.jpg
The U.S. aircraft carrier Bon Homme Richard sails into the Gulf of Tonkin in March 1968. A bill passed by the House Monday would extend disability benefits to U.S. troops who served in the seas around Vietnam and may have been exposed to Agent Orange contamination. (AP photo)

WASHINGTON — House lawmakers on Monday advanced plans to extend disability benefits for nearly 90,000 “blue water” veterans exposed to toxic chemicals during the Vietnam War but until now denied compensation for that danger.

The move was hailed as a major breakthrough by veterans advocates, but it will likely take several months before the Senate moves on the same plan and officially starts the process of getting payouts to those elderly veterans.

The House approved the plan by a vote of 382-0. It now heads to the upper chamber, where Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., has called the issue a top priority for the remainder of the year.

However, that committee must first tackle the confirmation of VA Secretary nominee Robert Wilkie, a process that starts with a hearing this Wednesday. That work will delay hearings on the new benefits bill for at least a few weeks, leaving no clear timetable on when the legislation may be completed.

On Monday, bill sponsor Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., called the House vote long overdue.

“Every day, thousands of brave veterans who served in Vietnam fight the health effects of Agent Orange,” he said. “Many are in pain and suffering. It is far past time we give them the comfort and care they deserve.”

Under current department regulations, Vietnam veterans with rare cancers and other illnesses can receive medical care from VA but are not always guaranteed disability benefits.

Troops who served on the ground in Vietnam or patrolled inland rivers during the war are assumed to have been working with or near Agent Orange, and are given special status when filing disability benefits claims to speed up the process.

But so-called “blue water” veterans — who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam — still need to prove direct exposure to Agent Orange for their illnesses to be labeled as service-connected. In many cases that’s impossible, since scientific evidence from the ships was never collected.

Lawmakers in recent years pushed to fix the oversight and mandate the special status for sailors who served off the coast. But they have also struggled with how to cover the costs.

Last month, lawmakers on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee reached a compromise to raise that $1.1 billion through a new fee on department-backed home loans.

It’s expected to cost a typical veteran homeowner about $350 over 10 years, but only about 60 percent of borrowers will be required to pay for it. Most veterans with a disability rating who use the home loan program will be exempt.

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee member Mark Takano, D-Calif., called that a fair solution because “it does not cut benefits for one group of veterans to pay for the benefits of others.” VA home loans are a voluntary program.

The House-passed bill also extends presumptive exposure status to veterans who served in the Korean Peninsula demilitarized zone beginning in September 1967 and lasting until August 1971, the same end date for the Vietnam War.

And the measure makes several additional changes to the VA home loan program, including eliminating the cap on loans department officials can offer.

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Personal note: This is about time! Let's hope those who've been exposed get the treatment the needed.

Boats
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Boats

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

"IN GOD WE TRUST"
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