Nearly 30,000 post-9/11 combat veterans are still without Department of Veterans Affairs health benefits due to a technicality more than three months after a whistleblower brought the issue to light.
VA officials apologized but say they do not have the authority to automatically enroll the veterans, even though they filled out the proper paperwork and are guaranteed at least five years of enhanced care by law. At issue is an optional means test, which the veterans in question did not fill out.
The free care they are guaranteed by a 2008 law does not require them to fill out the means test, but without that information, their applications are automatically placed into “pending” status.
The VA did not start reaching out to the veterans until VA program specialist Scott Davis publicly reported the problem, and now says there are about 29,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in pending status.
Benita Miller, director of the VA’s Health Eligibility Center, said the VA had enrolled 9,000 service members since August. Roughly 3,000 new veterans applied in that time.
The House Committee on Veterans Affairs requested that the VA provide information by Nov. 13 about the combat veterans on the pending list, including the list of veterans who may have died while their enrollments were still pending, but they did not receive the information, according to a committee official.
If you believe you might be one of the combat veterans affected, you can call 877-222-8387 or visit the VA’s Health Benefits page www.va.gov/HEALTHBENEFITS/apply. (Source: VVA Web Weekly | November 19, 2015)
Agent Orange updated ships list
VA maintains a list of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships associated with military service in Vietnam and possible exposure to Agent Orange based on military records. This evolving list helps Veterans who served aboard ships, including “Blue Water Veterans,” find out if they may qualify for presumption of herbicide exposure.
Veterans must meet VA’s criteria for service in Vietnam, which includes aboard boats on the inland waterways or brief visits ashore, to be presumed to have been exposed to herbicides. Veterans who qualify for presumption of herbicide exposure are not required to show they were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides when seeking VA compensation for diseases related to Agent Orange exposure.
The new additions include the Navy survey ships Sheldrake and Towhee, attack transport ship Okanogan, submarine rescue ship Chanticleer, destroyers Frank Knox and James E. Kyes, and transport ship General W. A. Mann.
VA also expanded the dates of eligibility for sailors who served on the destroyer Fechteler and said veterans may be eligible for presumptive status if they went ashore from the guided missile cruiser Dewey or attack transport ships Pickaway or Paul Revere during certain periods during the war.
Ships or boats that were part of the Mobile Riverine Force, Inshore Fire Support (ISF) Division 93 or had one of the below designations operated on the inland waterways of Vietnam. Veterans whose military records confirm they were aboard these ships qualify for presumption of herbicide exposure.
Ship designations can include the following: AGP (Assault Group Patrol/Patrol Craft Tender), LCM (Landing Craft, Mechanized), LCU (Landing Craft, Utility), LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel), LST (Landing Ship, Tank), PBR (Patrol Boat, River), PCF (Patrol Craft, Fast or Swift Boat), PG (Patrol Gunboat), STABS (Strike Assault Boats), WAK (Cargo Vessel), WHEC (High Endurance Cutter), WLB (Buoy Tender), WPB (Patrol Boat) of YFU (Harbor Utility Craft).
If your vessel is not included in the Mobile Riverine Force, ISF Division 93 or above designations, check VA’s alphabetized ship list at www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/shiplist/list.asp. To contact VA, call 1-800-827-1000 or 1-800-829-4833 (TDD for hearing impaired) or go to your nearest VA benefits office.
Currently there are 344 ships on this list. A veteran must file an Agent-Orange related disability claim before VA will conduct research on a specific ship not on VA’s ships list. This requirement also applies to survivors and children with birth defects.
If you think your ship should be on the list and you are not filing a claim, you may conduct your own research and submit documentary evidence to VA. Documentary evidence includes deck logs, ship histories, and cruise book entries.
You can obtain ship deck logs from the National Archives at College Park, Maryland. This evidence must show the ship entering the inland waterways of Vietnam, docking in Vietnam, or otherwise sending crew members ashore.
You must scan your documentary evidence and email it to the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Compensation Service at 211_AOSHIPS.VBACO@va.gov. Emails sent to this email address are not secure. Please do not include personal data. (Source: VA Secy Vet Group Liaison Officer | Kevin Sector | November 23, 2015)
Thomas Crisp is a retired military officer from Whitmire.