Friday, March 29 is National Vietnam War Veterans Day, a day in which we honor those who served in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. President Obama first proclaimed March 29, 2012 as Vietnam Veterans Day, and President Trump signed the Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017 to make it official. The date was chosen because March 29, 1973 was when the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam.
It marks a good time to remember that, while the last U.S. troops left Vietnam 46 years ago, “Blue Water” Navy veterans who fought in that war are still feeling the effects of their service due to exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange. And it’s a good opportunity to update our membership on where AUSN’s fight for their benefits stands at this moment.
The major development this year was a federal court’s 9-2 ruling in the Procopio case, an important victory for our efforts to get benefits for affected sailors. The ruling determined that the sailors aboard any ship that operated within the territorial sea of the Republic of Vietnam are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange.
At the same time, HR 299 — the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act — is starting to make its way through the House after a previous version failed to get out of a Senate committee last year.
With the Procopio decision, do we need HR 299 anymore? Possibly, if only for “look-back” provisions. But if Department of Veterans Affairs Sec. Robert Wilkie agrees that Procopio is retroactive, then the bill might not be needed after all. Still, this bill would cover our bases, and AUSN supports its passage regardless of how Procopio is applied.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee is currently working on the language of the bill, and a Senate version should be forthcoming soon. We will keep an eye on any further developments and immediately update our membership on any news about this issue.