Photo courtesy of Rep. David Valadao

"What next?": Blue Water Navy Veterans prepare to start over

December 12, 2018 - 1:00 pm

A push earlier this week to expedite the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018 through before the end of the 115th Congress failed. With only a glimmer of hope for it to pass this calendar year, veterans affected are gearing up to start back at square one next year with the 116th Congress.

RELATED: Blue Water Navy bill fails in Senate

"We thought we had a good shot in the Senate," said Michael F. Kvintus, national vice commander of the Blue Water Navy Association. "This bill went through the House unanimously back in June. Now tell me anything that the house of representatives can agree upon unanimously. Think about that. They felt that strongly that the VA has stabbed us in the back, and they passed the bill."

Kvintus served on the USS Buchanan in the Da Nang Harbor during Vietnam — where the U.S. military was using a chemical called Agent Orange to kill vegetation on Vietnam soil nearby. The chemical is also now known to cause fourteen different illnesses. Kvintus has three of them. 

"When I was 49 years old, I had a bad heart attack. I had to have stents put in, then it progressed to a quadruple bypass, and now I have diabetes," Kvintus said. "When I applied for benefits through the VA they informed me that I was denied because I didn't have boots on the ground."

"Boots on the ground" refers to the root of the problem — Congress originally included those who served in the waters off the coast and near Vietnam in the Agent Orange Act of 1991, which granted a presumption of exposure to anyone who earned the Vietnam Service Medal. But that changed in 2002 when the VA arbitrarily decided Vietnam vets had to have set foot on the ground to receive the benefits of Agent Orange exposure, leaving so-called Blue Water Navy veterans out to dry.

"I explained to them that I was in Da Nang Harbor. I didn't leave the ship but I was there. They said I didn't qualify."

Soon after his appeal was denied, Kvintus found other veterans like himself and started to work towards getting the benefits they deserve — working with legislators, meeting with senators, planning rallies, and, most recently, marching on the VA. 

Kvintus traveled to D.C. from Florida last week to speak with senators in person before marching to the D.C. VA offices with other Blue Water Navy Veterans.

"We're at the end of our ropes," Kvintus said when asked why they chose to march on the VA. "We've been fighting for this bill for 17 years now. We thought it was time to march on the VA."

Kvintus and other Blue Water Navy veterans felt that there was a good chance the Senate would unanimously choose to support the bill — especially after the unanimous support the House showed earlier this year.

"We thought we had a good shot in the Senate."

Unfortunately, the decision was not made in favor of Blue Water Navy Vets.

Two senators opposed the bill on Monday when Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand presented it for unanimous consent. Sen. Mike Enzi objected based on budgetary concerns, and Sen. Mike Lee wants to see more evidence linking Blue Water Navy vets to Agent Orange exposure.

RELATED: ‘It’s the cost of war’: lawmakers demand action on Blue Water Navy vets bill after collapse
RELATED: Why Sen. Enzi's delay of
Blue Water Navy bill is bull$#%!

"Last night when I found out this was going to take place, I was so excited," Kvintus said. "And then when Senator Enzi did what he did, it was like I got a knife shoved right in my gut. I was very emotional."

Now, there's still a chance that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will send the bill to the Senate for a vote, but Kvintus is not optimistic. 

"I'm fairly certain that if Senator Enzi and Senator Lee don't drop their opposition to the bill, I'm very doubtful it will get floor time to take to a vote," Kvintus said. "And if Senator McConnell cannot get floor time, the bill is dead. It's done. It will have to be reintroduced next year to the 116th Congress."

Despite these letdowns and setbacks, however, Kvintus says he's ready for next year — ready to start over from square one.

"I'm ready, and so is the association," Kvintus said. "All the Blue Water Navy veterans are more than ready."

"This is a national disgrace," Kvintus added. "We took an oath to defend the constitution of the United States, and with that oath we expected our country to take care of us. They've turned their back on us. I'm 72 years old. I shouldn't have to be fighting this fight. We fought our best and our government, including the Congress and especially the VA, has turned their backs on us."

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