Senate Veterans Committee Waiting On VA For Input On Benefits Amendment

SLIDELL, LA – A long-sought law to give Navy veterans access to compensation and care related to Agent Orange exposure has stalled in the Senate Veterans Committee because the Veterans Administration hasn't responded to the requisite request for input, reps from the Military Veterans Advocacy, a Louisiana-based non-profit that pushes rights and benefits for active-duty personnel and veterans, said.

         Amendment 1892 to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016 will send the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act to a Conference Committee and passage should follow, supporters believe. With 226 co-sponsors in the House, support for the effort has surged in recent months.

         "The VA has failed to send the amendment to the Office of Management and Budget or to provide the required comment," said Cdr. John B. Wells (USN, Ret.), a lawyer and executive director of Military Veterans Advocacy. "It appears as though they intend to wait until it is too late to bring this Amendment to a vote, effectively killing it. Notably, the VA has also failed to provide any comment or position on S-681, a separate bill that will have the same effect. If the VA successfully blocks Amendment 1892, S-681 will go back to markup. This will require the identification of another offset. While losing the battle over the Amendment will not kill the bill, we will again be at the mercy of the Congressional Budget Office and the offset identification process.

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         "There is one other remedy senators have,” Wells said. “They can hold up confirmation of VA officials nominated by the President. We urge our supporters to contact their senators and ask for a Senatorial hold on Dr. David Shulkin's nomination as the head of the Veteran's Health Administration, in addition to and any and all future VA nominations, until the Secretary provides the required position on the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act. While this may not save Amendment 1892, it will ensure that S 681 moves forward to the mark up.  We also are asking senators to request the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to declare an exception to the clearance requirement and to recommend that Amendment 1892 be part of the floor manager's package to be brought to a vote before the full Senate."

         Wells said that while blocking nominations is a severe step, the VA's recalcitrance has left few options, and a similar effort resulted in benefits being awarded to reservists who flew Agent Orange delivery flights and were exposed due to the toxin through residue on planes after the war.

         "Holding up nominations is a drastic tactic, but given the VA intransigence on the Blue Water bill and the effectiveness of blocking the nomination to secure benefits for pilots, it is a proper one," Wells said. "Senators Brown, Markley and Wyden have placed a hold on Shulkin's nomination until the VA determines whether the C-123 crews should be covered for Agent Orange disabilities. It is time to expand that hold to the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act. Time is short for S 681 but it is shorter for Amendment 1892."

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