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Americans must step up and protect veteran rights

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Many Americans believe all Vietnam veterans receive healthcare from VA hospitals. They are wrong. The VA denies health care and lost wage compensation to all Vietnam veterans whose feet did not touch the ground or who did not patrol the inland waterways of that country.

Navy and fleet marine personnel served in the offshore waters on battle stations providing continuous naval gunfire support, search and rescue, and aircraft carrier support and protection. They also served on submarines in the offshore Vietnam waters.

In January of 1991, the United States Congress, by unanimous consent of both House and Senate, passed a law acknowledging that components of herbicides (mainly Agent Orange) extensively sprayed over the Vietnamese countryside were the cause of major health problems to all of the men who fought that war.

In 2002, without consulting Congress, the Department of Veterans Affairs revoked the eligibility of certain Vietnam War veterans to receive VA benefits for service-connected disabilities granted by that law. Since that time, the list of cancers and other life-threatening illnesses has grown and the number of Vietnam War veterans who have succumbed to these major medical conditions has increased at an alarming rate.

These offshore veterans are currently dying in poverty because of medical bills that should have been covered by their VA benefits. They are dying without the dignity and respect they deserve as disabled American veterans and casualties of war.

This is an issue the American public needs to know about so they can demand their congressional representatives to support legislation currently before the House (HR-299) and Senate (S-422) that would restore these lost VA benefits. All Americans should be ashamed of how our government is treating veterans, from Vietnam to our current conflicts.

Because of the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010, any new law must ensure that most new spending is offset by spending cuts or added revenue. Congress doesn’t seem to have a problem finding ways to pay for bills related to helping other countries, including Vietnam for the cleanup of Agent Orange (Public Law No: 114-113), so they shouldn’t have a problem finding a way to pay for a bill that is going to help our veterans that served our country during a very unpopular “conflict.”

Vietnam was a country we were at war with and we can find the money to clean up up the toxins in Vietnam but not the funds to help the veterans that served off the coast of that country and are now suffering from diseases that may have been caused by Agent Orange. This is very sad.

Only the American public can bring about the needed changes by contacting their Senators and Representatives and demanding they take action. Tell them to vote for S-422 and HR-299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017, which will help solve the problem of the offshore Vietnam veterans while they are still alive.

Mike Yates

Blue Water Navy Awareness

Editor's note: Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, is a co-sponsor of this legislation, along with nearly 300 other members of the House of Representatives. On the Senate side, Sen. Dianne Feinstein is a co-sponsor but, as of Aug. 15, Sen. Kamala Harris was not.

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