Opinion: Agent Orange Treatment for Blue Water Vets

Opinion: Agent Orange Treatment for Blue Water Vets

Opinion: Agent Orange Treatment for Blue Water Vets
August 1, 2015

In the Vietnam War, thousands of men and women were exposed to a horrific chemical known as Agent Orange.

Agent Orange was dangerous. It was toxic. It filled the air, poisoned the water, and severely damaged the health of the people who were exposed to it—and in the late 1960s, the United States government recognized its harmful effects.

Agent Orange is a weapon that we never should have used, and the Department of Veterans Affairs now actively provides care and coverage to many soldiers who were exposed to it during the Vietnam War.

The problem we face today is that under current VA rules, when the VA treats cases related to Agent Orange exposure, the only U.S. veterans they will see are the men and women who actually walked on Vietnamese soil, or served on boats on Vietnam’s rivers. This means that thousands of U.S. Navy veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange while stationed on ships just off the Vietnamese coast are not being treated by the VA.

Agent Orange did not discriminate between those who stood on boats on rivers, and those who stood on boats offshore. So why should the VA discriminate between the two? This arbitrary and bureaucratic rule is causing thousands of our Navy veterans to suffer.

I’ve introduced a bipartisan bill to the U.S. Senate that would finally solve this problem. The bill is called the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015, and it would change the VA’s rules so that our blue water veterans get the care they need and deserve.

Bobby Condon is one of these veterans. He’s from Brooklyn, he joined the Navy when he was a teenager, and he went to Vietnam at age 18 because he wanted to serve his country.

Like countless others, Bobby was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam. He served on the USS Intrepid, which is now a world-class museum right here in New York. Bobby moved propeller planes and bomber jets on the Intrepid’s flight deck—planes that had dropped Agent Orange, and still contained its residue after their missions were finished.

It was Bobby’s job to handle these planes. Bobby was a serial nail-biter, and he believes Agent Orange toxins seeped into his body when he bit his nails. And now, in his late 60s, he suffers from leukemia—a disease linked to Agent Orange exposure. He’s been dealing with it for almost 20 years.

So what do you think the Department of Veteran Affairs did when Bobby first went to them for coverage? They said, “Sorry, your boat was here, not here, so we can’t help you. Sorry, you didn’t have boots on the ground.” All those blue water Navy veterans like Bobby—we’re letting them down.

Bobby said it best: “All I wanted is what I deserve.”

We have an obligation to give back to the brave men and women who risked their lives for us. Because each day that we delay passage of this bill— each day that our Vietnam veterans are refused service from the VA—these Americans continue to become ill and go into bankruptcy from trying to pay their medical bills.

Let’s fight to pass this bill, and give our heroes the medical coverage they need and deserve. 

Kirsten Gillibrand