From Chuck Weber, your Veteran Service Officer...

In the wake of the Veterans Administration decision to grant benefits to the C-123 pilots and crew for exposure to Agent Orange, focus has shifted to the Blue Water Navy veterans and pending federal legislation to remedy a flaw in VA policy. Legislation introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, [D-NY], along with Sen Steve Daines [R-MT] is scheduled for a "mark-up" hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on July 14.

In another development, VA Deputy Secretary Sloane Gibson has agreed to meet with Military-Veterans Advocacy Executive Director, Commander John B. Wells, USN (Retired), on July 6. This meeting will involve a full-blown discussion on the Blue Water Navy issue ahead of the July 14 hearing. Discussions will center around the viability of the VA’s "boots on the ground" policy, which has mandated that only servicemen and women who served on land are eligible for Agent Orange benefits. Military-Veterans Advocacy has argued in court and before Congress that the presumption of exposure should extend to the territorial seas.

The VA has also indicated that it does not intend to appeal the Court of Appeals for Veterans claims decision in Gray v. MacDonald. In that case, the court found the exclusion of bays and harbors from the presumption of exposure was arbitrary and capricious and ordered the VA to revisit its regulations. The decision to forego an appeal suggests the VA will re-write regulations regarding bays and harbors within the Republic of Vietnam.

Companion legislation in the House of Representatives, introduced by Congressman Chris Gibson [R NY], continues to draw increased interest. Currently, 230 members of the House have signed on to the bill as co-sponsors.

Military-Veterans Advocacy is a Louisiana-based non-profit that advocates in Congress and in the courts on matters concerning members of the armed forces and military veterans. Cdr. Wells is a retired U. S. Navy surface warfare officer and an attorney whose practice emphasizes Military and Veterans law.

In a statement, Wells stated that he views “The upcoming meeting with Secretary Gibson is a great step forward for all veterans,” Wells said. “We intend to assist the VA in a positive way to resolve all coverage questions with the Blue Water Navy and other victims of toxic exposure."
The issue is broader than Agent Orange.

"We need to take care of our veterans," Wells said. "These men and women have put their lives on the line to defend this country. We as a nation need to take care of them. For too long the VA has been concerned with bureaucracy rather than benefits. The agreement to provide coverage for the C-123 veterans was a step in the right direction. We hope to continue this progress with the Blue Water Navy and other veterans who have been improperly denied benefits."

Source: Military-Veterans Advocacy, Inc., James Hartmann, June 24, 2015

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