News Releases - Military & Veterans News
Written by Susan Belanger   
Monday, 12 August 2013 13:58
In a suit filed in federal
court in Washington DC, two veterans organizations have filed suit against
the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, for failing to provide
benefits to a group of Vietnam War veterans who served aboard ship off the
coast of Vietnam.  Over a hundred thousand of these Blue Water veterans
were exposed to Agent Orange through their drinking water while providing
gunfire support, air support and logistic support in the territorial seas
off the coast of the republic of Vietnam.   The Blue Water Navy Vietnam
Veterans Association, (BWNVVA) a not for profit corporation chartered to
advance the cause of the Blue Water Navy veterans, along with
Military-Veterans Advocacy (MVA) another non-profit who advocated for
veterans, filed the 32 page suit charging that the Secretary ignored
scientific evidence which showed the presence of Agent Orange in the
waters off shore as well as solid proof that the shipboard distillation
process, which converted saltwater to potable drinking water, enriched the
effect of the dioxin.  Attorney John Wells, who brought the suit, is a
retired Navy Commander and served as Chief Engineer on three Navy ships.
"I am very familiar with the naval operations at the time and the
distillation equipment that enriched the dioxin." Wells said.  "We have
taken this evidence to two separate committees of the Institute of
Medicine, and they agree that the distillation process, based on Henry's
law of thermodynamics, would have co-distilled and enriched the dioxin.
This confirmed an earlier study by the University of Queensland."  Wells
is the Executive Director of MVA and previously serves as Director of
Legal and Legislative Affairs for the BWNVVA.  After retiring as a surface
warfare officer he opened a law practice in Slidell Louisiana with
emphasis on military and veterans law.   John Paul Rossie, a retired
Information Technology expert, served in the Navy off the coast of
Vietnam.  Rossie has served the BWNVVA since its inception as its
Executive Director. He said as follows: "Sea service personnel operating
in the war zone were given a straight shot of Agent Orange into their
drinking water.  They drank it, showered in it and had their food prepared
with it," Rossie continued, "but the VA has just ignored them.  Now they
are dying and leaving their families without the VA compensation that they
earned."  Prior to 2002, the Blue Water Navy veterans were granted the
presumption of exposure. This was rescinded based on a 1997 VA General
Counsel's opinion that concluded the words "service in the Republic of
Vietnam" meant "service in-country."  Australia, an American ally in
Vietnam, has been granting benefits to their naval personnel since 2003.
The Blue Water Navy veterans actually won a restoration in benefits from
the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in 2006 but that decision was set
aside on administrative law grounds by the United States Court for the
Federal Circuit in 2008.  "This suit covers different grounds," Wells
noted.  "We are not attacking the lack of rulemaking as was the case in
the previous suit, but we are showing that the Secretary's decision was
arbitrary and capricious, unsupported by substantial evidence and in
violation of existing law. The VA currently grants the presumption of
exposure for ships that steamed into inland waterways that they have
arbitrarily defined as rivers.  What the VA either did not know or
intentionally ignored, is that the 1958 Convention on the Territorial Seas
and the Contiguous Zone, which the United States has signed and ratified,
includes bays and harbors as inland waterways.  Additionally the treaty
makes the territorial seas part of the sovereign territory of the nation.
"I sat down with John Gingrich, who at the time was the Chief of Staff for
the VA and showed him a picture of Da Nang Harbor (attached), which is
surrounded on three sides by land. He thought that the harbor was covered.
I had to show him his own manual which specifically excepted the harbors.
He agreed that the VA's position did not make sense and agreed to
re-visit it. Instead last December, the VA published a Notice saying that
they would not change their policy.  The VA did not return the telephone
calls I made to them after the notice was published."  The plight of the
Blue Water Navy veterans has support in Congress.  Presently 127 members
of the House (including Rep Mike Michaud (D-ME) ranking member of the
Veterans Affairs Committee) are co-sponsoring a bill by Rep. Chris Gibson
(R-NY) to restore the presumption of exposure to those who served in the
territorial seas of the Republic of Vietnam. "We are heartened by the
bi-partisan support of this bill," Rossie said, "but despite the support,
it is still stalled in Committee.  So while we are continuing to gather
support in Congress, we felt the need to also move forward in court.  Our
people are dropping like flies and we need to try any avenue we can to
obtain these benefits."  -End-

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