It's time to provide benefits to Vietnam navy veterans

It's time to provide benefits to Vietnam navy veterans
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After a seven-year struggle, Navy veterans are on the cusp of getting exposure for those who served in the bays, harbors and estuarine waters of the Republic of Vietnam. Despite a unanimous vote in the House of Representatives, some naysayers have come forward to launch a last ditch attack this bill. 

First a real estate agent in Phoenix objected to the small increase in veterans home loan guarantee fees used to offset the new benefits. Then Anthony Principi, the former VA Secretary, who implemented the decision to strip the Navy veterans of their benefits, published an op-ed claiming that the bill was not supported by science.

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Under the Pay as You Go Act, any new benefit must be scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and offset by a reduction elsewhere in the budget. CBO has scored the Blue Water Navy bill at $894 million over ten years. The House agreed to a small increase in loan guarantee fees to pay for the benefits.

 

The amount of the increase varies on whether there is a down payment and whether it is the first or subsequent use of the home loan benefit. The increased loan guarantee rates will vary between 1.25 and 3.30 percent and are expected to cost the veteran just a few dollars per month.

Disabled veterans will generally be exempt from the provision unless they are seeking a jumbo loan. While the cap on jumbo loans will be removed, the veteran will not be eligible for the exemption unless 100 percent disabled. But the bill allows the VA to provide a guarantee on the full amount of the loan. Removing the cap will eliminate the need for secondary financing which normally requires a higher interest rate. rate.

Former Secretary Principi tries to use his experience as a junior officer on an old World War II Destroyer, and later a Navy JAG, to qualify as himself as an expert on the hydrological and thermodynamic forces at play here. The thrust of his argument is that the Blue Water Navy bill is contrary to science.

Principi is wrong. Most senior Naval officers and hydrologists agree that the bill is well grounded in science. Several Committees of the Institute of Medicine have confirmed the accepted view that the agent orange dioxin entered the estuarine waters of the South China Sea — the area covered by the bill.

Principi weakly argues that the dioxin is destroyed by sunlight, and he ignores the fact that the dioxin adhered to water molecules and were embedded in the sediment of the rivers, harbors and estuarine waters off the coast. One harbor study conducted 20 years after the war found toxic levels of dioxin in Nha Trang Harbor.

Another study by the State of New Jersey found that dioxin from a spill in the Passaic River contaminated seafood over 150 miles from shore.

Additionally, the United States has just spent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars remediating dioxin contaminated areas in Da Nang Vietnam and is moving forward to clean up Bien Hoa. So contrary to Principi’s claims, the dioxin remains over 40 years after the end of the war.

Notably, two committees of the Institute of Medicine confirmed findings by the University of Queensland that the evaporation distillation system, that converted salt water to portable water, enriched the dioxin. Our Australian allies also discovered a higher cancer incidence in navy Vietnam veterans than those who fought in country. 

The Center for Disease Control found similar heightened occurrence of Non Hodgkins Lymphoma in Navy veterans. Accordingly, the scientific facts speak for themselves.

It is time for Congress to act! The House vote signals a tsunami of support for these navy veterans and their survivors. In 2002 Principi implemented a legally flawed general counsel’s opinion to strip the presumption of exposure from the navy vets serving in the bays, harbors and estuarine waters of Vietnam. He cannot now try to invent science to justify his defective decision making.

John B. Wells is a retired Navy Commander who served for 22 years on several ships as a surface warfare officer. He is also an attorney emphasizing military and veterans law. Wells now acts as executive director of Military-Veterans Advocacy a Slidell, Louisiana based non-profit.