04 January 2013

Disparage Blue Water Navy Veterans? NEVER!

I got an email asking if one of our posts could be used on the Blue Water Navy web site, and the correspondent said he liked our message but seemed worried that we might in some way have disparaged that very large group of veterans seeking service connection for their Agent Orange exposure.

NEVER. Mutual support is one of the first lessons I learned when starting veterans advocacy work. And if you can't support another veteran's claim, stand respectfully silent about it.

All I know about BWN is what I've read on their web site, learned from a couple calls with their leadership as we discussed strategy, and respectfully observed as their influential legislators bring considerable influence to bear on their behalf.

My article was written upon the announcement by VA that Blue Water Navy vets would not be awarded presumptive service connection. This means their vets must, like us, be evaluated individually and face an uphill battle of proving illness, exposure to military herbicide, and nexus between the two. Hard to do, as we've seen. The VA decision denied the sailors presumptive eligibility as with the "boots on the ground" Vietnam veterans and that was a painful blow, with so much hope up after the 2010 and 2011 Institute of Medicine reports on the Blue Water Navy.

As I read those reports, I felt the writers weakened on presenting their conclusions. They simply said dioxin exposure via the vessel's evaporators was possible. That language was perhaps too meek, and similar to a physician's "may" language which the VA takes as having less than a 50-50 weight to it.

So my article was not to comment on BWN in any negative way, but to take the moment to explain that our basis for claiming Agent Orange exposure is quite different and we've tried very hard to substantiate that claim in depth. I feel BWN has done a great job gaining support from the Military Coalition and from Congress, but not so great a job on lining up scientific evidence.

Good luck to all, sailors included! Maybe it helps to have both our organizations taking on the VA as perhaps more and more about dioxin and its impact on the body will come to light.

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