VAM Email Alert: June 2019

JUNE 2019


Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veteran Act Becomes Law

Last Tuesday, June 25th, the President of the United States signed H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, into law. To all of you who took action and messaged your legislators, attended our webinar and told your friends and family about this issue; thank you, this victory is yours.

The law, which takes effect January 1, 2020, will extend disability benefits to veterans who served between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, within 12 nautical miles of the coast of Vietnam and Cambodia, along a line of demarcation spelled out in the bill. The President’s signature signals the end of a decades-long fight for these former sailors and Marines to receive compensation for diseases presumed to be caused by exposure to the chemicals known as Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War.

In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld a ruling in favor of the veterans, saying Congress never intended to exclude service members in the seas around Vietnam in the original legislation that awarded veterans benefits.

Earlier this month, the Justice Department decided against appealing the court’s decision.

The law will also extend disability compensation to personnel who served in or near the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), during the period beginning on September 1, 1967, and ending on August 31, 1971, as well as benefits for children suffering from spina bifida whose parent served in Thailand during the period beginning on January 9, 1962, and ending on May 7, 1975.

There is some concern among veteran advocates that the law is more narrowly tailored than the court ruling due to the geographic lines spelled out in the bill, which did not exist in the courts holding. If you believe you are one of those veterans whose ship did not enter into the geographic zone as described in the legislative text, than we encourage you to file your benefit claim now, before the law takes effect in January.

View our guide on this and other issues related to veterans with myeloma.

What is the Burn Pit Registry?

For many younger veterans, the idea that something they were exposed to during their time in service could one day cause them to develop a disease like myeloma is a far-off thought. The reality, however, is much closer to home for some veterans who discover an instance of cancer decades earlier than the average patient. For this reason, researchers have become interested in the effects of burn pits used during the wars in Iraqi and Afghanistan.

Burn pits were used to burn many things, such as chemicals, paint, medical and human waste, metal cans, unexploded ordnance, petroleum products, plastics, rubber, wood, and garbage. Currently, the Department of Veteran Affairs says that research doesn’t show these burn pits caused any long-term health problems, but much like the veterans affected by Gulf War Syndrome, they are continuing to study it and have created a Burn Pit Registry to keep track of veterans exposed to the smoke from those burn pits. Much like Agent Orange, many health effects to chemical exposure are not diagnosed or determined until well after the fact when scientific studies are completed.

You can enroll in the Burn Pit Registry if you served in:

  • Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn
  • Djibouti, Africa on or after September 11, 2001
  • Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm
  • Southwest Asia theater of operations on or after August 2, 1990

In addition to the current, voluntary registry, members of congress are pushing for the Department of Defense to automatically enroll current service members who were stationed where an open-air burn pit was used to dispose of waste or exposed to toxic airborne chemicals. The legislation, known as the Burn Pits Accountability Act (H. R. 663 and S. 191) currently has 190 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and 39 in the Senate.

The IMF supports this policy and we will continue to keep you updated on its progress. 

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