House Veterans' Affairs Committee Ranking Democratic Member Bob Filner (D-CA-51) announced the introduction of the Agent Orange Equity Act, H.R. 812, a bill that would restore equity to all Vietnam veterans that were exposed to Agent Orange.
"We owe it to our veterans to fulfill the promises made to them as a result of their service," said Ranking Democratic Member Filner. "If, as a result of service, a veteran was exposed to Agent Orange and it has resulted in failing health, this country has a moral obligation to care for each veteran the way we promised we would. And as a country at war, we must prove that we will be there for all of our veterans, no matter when they serve. The courts have turned their backs on our veterans on this issue, but I believe this Congress should not allow our veterans to be cheated of benefits they have earned and deserve."
H.R. 812 would clarify the laws related to VA benefits provided to Vietnam War veterans suffering from the ravages of Agent Orange exposure. In order to try to gain a better military vantage point, Agent Orange, which we now know is a highly toxic cocktail of herbicide agents, was widely sprayed for defoliation and crop destruction purposes all over the Vietnam War Battlefield, as well as on borders and other areas of neighboring nations.
Currently, VA requires Vietnam veterans to prove a "foot on land" occurrence in order to qualify for the presumptions of service-connection for related illnesses afforded under current law. This issue has been the subject of much litigation and on May 8, 2008, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals upheld VA's overly narrow interpretation and the Supreme Court later denied certiorari essentially affirming this ruling. However, Congress clearly did not intend to exclude these veterans from compensation based on arbitrary geographic line drawing by VA. Many stakeholders agree.
H.R. 812 is intended to clarify the law so that Blue Water veterans and every service member awarded the Vietnam Service medal, or who otherwise deployed to land, sea or air, in the Republic of Vietnam is fully covered by the comprehensive Agent Orange laws Congress passed in 1991. "Time is running out for these veterans," concluded Ranking Democratic Member Filner. "Many are dying from their Agent Orange related diseases, uncompensated for their sacrifice. There is still a chance for America to meet its obligations to these noble veterans. This is not a partisan issue and I hope the new Chairman of the Committee will join me in working work with our colleagues to provide the earned disability benefits and health care to the thousands of veterans and survivors that earned this care for their selfless service to our nation."