By: Mike Yates, National Commander, Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association

On Monday, July 15, 2019, The Southern Maryland Chronicle published an article released by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs regarding the signing of HR299. The new law affects Veterans who served on a vessel operating not more than 12 nautical miles seaward from the demarcation line of the waters of Vietnam and Cambodia, as defined in Public Law 116-23. An estimated 420,000 to 560,000 Vietnam-era Veterans may be considered Blue Water Navy Veterans.

In July 16, 2019, Mr. Mike Yates, the National Commander for the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association wrote into The Southern Maryland Chronicle and asked us to publish this response:

While passing HR299 it is a good thing and it will help many Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans, In is a sad state of affairs when something becomes Political when it shouldn’t. The latest example is the passing of HR299, The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019.

Here we have a Bill that is suppose to help Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange. Yes it has been signed into law and will take effect on January 1, 2020 and it will help some Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans but it won’t help others that were going to be helped after the Procopio Ruling was handed down.

We have the Leadership of Congress and the large VSO running around patting themselves on their backs for passing of the Bill. However there are some groups missing, both Military Veterans Advocacy and Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association are missing from all of the Media dealing with HR299. These are two of the groups that have worked the hardest and always stayed on course with the Bill, yet the Leadership in Congress and the large VSOs are ignoring them. Could this be because of the fact that they are the two groups pointing out the major problem with HR299, that will limit the Procopio Ruling just because of the word “Offshore” in HR299.

We are the ones that haven’t changed the way we feel about this issue. In the last session of Congress we were pushing HR299 and the Big VSOs had a problem with the funding, well until it appeared that there was no stopping the Bill. They were fighting against it, if you don’t believe it check last year. They were against the Pay For. They fought it for the longest time until it appeared it was going to pass the House, then they came out for it. Why would they do that? Was it so they could take credit for it, or is it something else?

Then this session of Congress after the Procopio Ruling was announced, the VSOs decides to start supporting HR299 when in fact HR299 was no longer needed. But the VSOs decided that they need to “PROTECT” the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans by putting in the Geographic Points. It doesn’t take a Legal Expert to see that by defining the Geographic Points and calling them  “Offshore” will limit the Procopio Ruling. My question is, didn’t they have their Lawyers read the Bill and the Procopio Ruling, I don’t think so. They just wanted to show they are going to “PROTECT” the Blue Water Navy Vietnams and now it is going to hurt those that are covered under the Procopio Ruling. The Procopio Ruling states that “Offshore” is farther out than the Geographical Points known as the Territorial Seas.

Could the actually reasons why they would not change the wording be due to money. Are Congress and the large VSO working together to make sure that the cost of the Bill doesn’t go any higher. Or are the two groups working together for other reasons, like I’ll scratch you back if you scratch mine.

Now it gets even worse. On July 1, 2019 Secretary Wilkie of the Veterans Administration decided to issue a Stay. In the VA statement, Secretary Wilkie states “VA is dedicated to ensuring that all veterans receive the benefits they have earned,” Wilkie said in a statement. “We are working to ensure that we have the proper resources in place to meet the needs of our Blue Water veteran community and MINIMIZE THE IMPACT ON ALL VETERANS FILING FOR DISABILITY COMPENSATION.” To me he is saying, just so we don’t impact other Veterans we are just going to delay The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans, AFTER ALL THEY ARE USED TO IT.

My feeling is if it that important for the Leadership of Congress and the Big VSOs to leave Blue Water Navy Association out of everything, then fine, I hope they remember to take the credit when early next year when Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans find out that just because their ship was just outside by a couple of miles the Geographical Points that they are no longer covered but they would of been covered if Procopio Ruling, had S1195 passed or just changed the word “Offshore” in HR299. 

If they think we are going to give up they are wrong. We will Continue the fight for veterans rights.

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...