WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – Decades after their service, nearly 100,000 Vietnam veterans will be able to get the benefits they’ve been fighting for.
President Donald Trump recently signed the bill into law that allows the V.A. to process more Agent Orange benefits.
A new law expands benefits to veterans harmed by Agent Orange off the coast of Vietnam.
Before the Blue Water Navy Act, those benefits were only available to veterans who fought on the mainland.
“We see and hear from veterans who are sick and dying,” said Carlos Fuentes, Veterans of Foreign Wars, National Legislative Service Director.
Last week, the Department of Veterans Affairs said it was preparing to process claims but doesn’t have to make a decision on them until the law officially takes effect on January 1.
Fuentes said the V.A. might take quicker action if it supported Blue Water Navy in the first place.
“The V.A. has fought Blue Water Navy and it’s because they did not believe the evidence,” Fuentes said. “There are some claims the VA can start rating now and they should.”
Before it passed, V.A. Secretary Robert Wilkie spoke out against the bill, writing to Congress, “We urge the committee to consider the scientific evidence, impact on other veterans and costs associated with this legislation.”
Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman didn’t share those concerns.
“To me, it’s pretty simple. If you served our country in the armed service, you were exposed to Agent Orange and you have health complications from it, the V.A. should address those concerns and take care of you,” Rep. Bruce Westerman said.
Roughly 90,000 Vietnam veterans will receive expanded benefits.
Those, like Fuentes, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan hope they don’t have to wait decades to get the help they need.
“There was a burn pit right in front of me. I couldn’t tell my sergeant, ‘No, there’s smoke so I’m going to have to get down and no longer guard this post.’ I had no other choice but to stay there,” Fuentes said.
Fuentes said for them, the fight continues.
A Senate committee plans to hold a hearing soon over toxic exposure issues.