Letter: Legislation finally recognizes Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans

To the editor,

President Donald Trump recently signed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 into law, finally bringing congressional recognition to 90,000 veterans who served in the bays, harbors and territorial sea of Vietnam during that conflict. Unfortunately, wording on the part of House Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) may have cut off benefits for up to 55,000 additional veterans who served offshore Vietnam but outside the territorial sea. This includes a number of carrier sailors who were exposed by the surging waters of the Mekong River that discharged into the South China Sea.

The legislation was made possible by the court victory in the case of Procopio v. Wilkie, which was brought by Military-Veterans Advocacy on behalf of Navy veteran Al Procopio. The Procopio case required the VA to provide benefits to the veterans out of existing appropriations and to do so immediately.

The credit belongs to a band of volunteers within the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association. Led by Susie Belanger, a housewife and former Navy spouse, this group of disabled former sailors spearheaded the successful effort.

But while H.R. 299 commendably gives these veterans and their survivors the right to retroactive benefits, it unfortunately fails to require that the VA automatically identify the thousands of veterans and survivors who are entitled to retroactive benefits back to the date their prior claim was filed. I want to let people know that the VA will probably not contact anyone to make them aware of their benefits. If people think they may be affected by this legislation they should contact their local VA representative or the nearest veteran’s service organization (VFW, American Legion, etc.).

Raymond Melninkaitis

Beacon Falls

The writer is a former director of corporate resources for the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association.