20-Year-Navy Veteran Says It’s “Inexcusable” That Heroes Must Wait “Another Minute” For Clarity On Health Benefits
WASHINGTON – Five weeks after first asking about the status of healthcare benefits for thousands of Blue Water Navy Veterans of the Vietnam War without getting an answer, Congresswoman Elaine Luria (VA-02), Chair of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs (DAMA), again pressed VA Secretary Robert Wilkie for an update on extending benefits to Blue Water Navy Veterans.
Congresswoman Luria’s original question at a Feb. 27 hearing asked whether Blue Water Navy Veterans would receive the same healthcare benefits afforded to other Vietnam Veterans. At the Feb. 27 hearing, Secretary Wilkie said “I would assume” Blue Water Navy Veterans would receive healthcare benefits, but pledged to “ask the lawyers” for an answer to relay to Congresswoman Luria.
On Wednesday, Secretary Wilkie and top aides again offered unclear answers that mirrored their testimony when Congresswoman Luria first asked them the same question at the Feb. 27 hearing.
Congresswoman Luria requested an update during Wednesday’s House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing. In response, Dr. Richard A. Stone, Executive in Charge of the Veterans Health Administration, said: “I think that is our intention, but let me confirm that for sure.”
“Blue Water Navy Veterans have spent decades wondering if they will get benefits for diseases related to herbicide exposure during their service in the Vietnam War,” Congresswoman Luria said after the hearing. “They deserve clarity, and it’s inexcusable that they must wait another minute for an answer from the government.”
Blue Water Navy Veterans are servicemembers who served at sea off the shore of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Until recently, Blue Water Navy Veterans were not eligible for the disability benefits based on herbicide exposure that are currently available to those who served on land within Vietnam. In January, a federal appeals court reversed that determination in Procopio v. Wilkie, but the ruling only applied to disability benefits and not necessarily healthcare benefits.
While testifying before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on March 26, Secretary Wilkie said the VA will not appeal the January court ruling. However, it remains unclear whether Blue Water Navy Veterans will also qualify for healthcare benefits administered by the VA.
A 20-year Navy veteran, Congresswoman Luria has sent a letter to Secretary Wilkie asking for answers by April 12.