Veterans poisoned at sea ask Congress for help

For those Americans who fought in Vietnam, there were no welcome home parades. Instead massive antiwar demonstrations awaited in an angry, divided, war weary country.

Now 50 years later, Vietnam veterans are demonstrating. From St. Petersburg to Washington D.C., in rallies across America, veterans urged Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs to restore health benefits to sailors exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam’s harbors and waters.

Mike Kvintus, of Port Richey, served on the destroyer the USS Buchanan.

“My ship sailed into Da Nang Harbor, and the days that I was there they sprayed Agent Orange all over the harbor,” Mike remembered.

He suffers from diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and neuropathy – all conditions linked to Agent Orange. Mike went to D.C. to rally support for a bill allowing vets like him to apply for Agent Orange coverage.

According to the VA, only those who served on the ground in Vietnam qualify. However, studies show Blue Water Navy veterans like Mike were exposed to the herbicide through shipboard water filter systems that drew in water tainted by Agent Orange.

“Basically, it intensified Agent Orange. It didn’t eliminate it; it actually intensified the effect,” Navy veteran Mike Flaherty said.

The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015 stalled in congress. So 8 On Your Side reached out to Congressional members who had not taken a stand. After we contacted Senator Bill Nelson, D-Fla., he co-sponsored the measure.

Following another inquiry, U.S. Representatives Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, also co-sponsored the bill.

“We have a bill that is supported by 73 percent of the House of Representatives, and one man is holding that up in committee. He’s refusing to let it go to a vote,” Flaherty said.

That one man would be Florida Congressman Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. If you’d like to let congressman Miller know where you stand on this issue, his office number in Pensacola is (850) 479-1183.

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