Target 8: Benefits for 90,000 Navy veterans on the line in D.C.

PORT RICHEY, Fla. (WFLA) – The fight is on to change the V.A. policy that Vietnam veterans believe applies to them, delay, deny until they die.  Blue Water Navy veterans rallied their forces on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

Mike Kvintus

They are asking Congress to restore their Agent Orange benefits that the V.A. took away in 2002.

Mike Kvintus, of Port Richey, is one of them. Kvintus went to war in 1966 on board the U.S.S. Buchanan.

The ship sat in Da Nang harbor, the day the military sprayed Agent Orange over it.

“The plume covered that whole harbor,” said Kvintus.

On Capitol Hill, a subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs heard testimony both for and against HR 299, which will restore Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans presumption of service connection to Agent Orange diseases.

“Let’s be very clear, we sent them into harm’s way and they are now experiencing exactly the same symptoms and problems that their colleagues, I mean and women in arms, were facing on land,” stated Congresswoman Elizabeth Este (D) Connecticut.

Navy ships turned salt water, that veterans contend was contaminated with Agent Orange, into fresh.   The process enhanced the toxin, essentially poisoning sailors.

“We want to find ways to pay benefits, but historically, we have to say no to some folks when there is not a rational basis,” explained Beth Murphy Director, Compensation Service Veterans Benefits Administration U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Some argue it is the V.A.’s logic that is irrational.

“They draw an imaginary line across Da Nang harbor and if in fact you’re here, in the water, you’re not exposed, and if you’re here in the water, two feet away, you are exposed. It’s preposterous, it’s not scientific evidence, it is simply they wanted to say no,” retorted Rick Weidman, Executive Director, Policy and Government Affairs, Vietnam Veterans of America.

The V.A.’S policy according to Weidman, is simple.

“Delay, deny and wait for us to die,” he said.

More than 230 members of Congress are in favor of HR 299.

The big question, how to pay to restore the benefits which is estimated will cost $1.1 billion dollars over 10 years?

“Frankly, we don’t care how you pay for it, but you need to pay for it,” said John Wells, Executive Director Military-Veterans Advocacy Inc.

“These guys are dying and their families are being left destitute because of medical bills.”

Medical bills that are adding up for veterans like Mike Kvintus.

“I would fight for this country today,” Kvintus said. “I expected my country to take care of me and they haven’t done it.”

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