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Letter: Blue Water Navy Bill must be enacted

March 12, 2019

“A nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure.” Abraham Lincoln. Recent stories about funds running out for New York’s 911 first responders report a bipartisan effort to keep it viable. Few if any would argue that caring for those who run toward danger is not only the right thing to do; it is a moral imperative. 

When we invaded Iraq in 2003, Gen. Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and later U.S. secretary of state, used a Pottery Barn analogy, “If you break it, you own it,” alluding to our responsibilities to govern Iraq after we overthrew Saddam. 

The same is true of the brave souls who defend our nation. 

Last year Congress unanimously agreed to provide benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans suffering the effects of Agent Orange exposure 50 years earlier. Blue water refers to the sailors who served in ships off the coast of Vietnam but who never actually set foot in country. They had been denied disability or treatment based on the logic they couldn’t have been exposed to the herbicide. But because of multiple and ongoing contacts with supplies, equipment and shore-based personnel, that was debunked.

After a years-long battle, it looked like aging veterans who had survived the ravages that affected their ground-based comrades would finally be granted the benefits they merited for 14 presumptive diseases including leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, prostate cancer, Type II diabetes, heart problems, respiratory cancers and soft tissue sarcomas. 

That was until the VA balked at paying the cost, resulting in the bill’s removal from consideration in the U.S. Senate. Disgraceful. 

More important, this attitude doesn’t bode well for our sons and daughters who have fought our enemies in the Middle East since 1990. In addition to physical and psychological injuries, they have faced chemicals, burning oil, sand in their lungs, exposure to depleted uranium ordnance and other toxic agents we haven’t yet acknowledged.

Like many of us who were exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, their time is coming a decade or two from now when their doctors inform them they are suffering from cancer, auto-immune diseases, heart, kidney, thyroid and lung problems, and other life-threatening ailments new to their family tree. 

Considering the billions we spend on social programs, including the welfare of noncitizens, how dare we deny care and benefits to those who defend us? My 67-year-old brother Ed, who was exposed to AO during Air Force service in Thailand and Okinawa (which the government denied until recently), died a year ago with no VA help. 

Military service runs in families. If we don’t take care of mom and dad, we can’t expect their children to fight for us, because we won’t deserve their protection. 

The Blue Water Navy Bill is again being brought up, and veterans organizations will be watching who opposes it. 

The cost of war goes long beyond the final shot. The last battle a dying veteran faces should never be against his or her own government for life-saving care and benefits. 

Shame on elected officials who don’t understand that.  

Dave Skocik
president, Delaware Veterans Coalition

 

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