‘Blue Water’ Vietnam veterans still seeking Agent Orange benefits

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Dave Nichol believes exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War is the cause of his suffering now with Parkinson’s disease.

“You can never be really sure,” Nichol said. “It’s just a disease but statistically speaking how many people have to die with their specific disease before they do something.”

Nichol, of Clintonville, is one of thousands of “Blue Water Navy Veterans” who served in Vietnam on ships offshore. They believe they were exposed to Agent Orange through the water that was pumped onboard, desalinated, and then used for drinking, cooking and showering.

For troops who served on the ground in Vietnam or in boats patrolling the inland waters, exposure to Agent Orange is assumed to have taken place.

But for those who served on ships offshore, VA rules require proof of exposure in order to receive disability benefits.

In June lawmakers in the House of Representatives approved a plan to make the Blue Water veterans eligible for benefits. However, the plan has stalled in the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee after VA officials expressed opposition.

The VA has said there is no scientific proof of exposure for the Blue Water vets.  Advocates say such evidence would have to have been collected at the time.

Jackie Bloom, Nichol’s wife says Dave was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2007.  She said there’s no family history of Parkinson’s. 

Bloom says it’s not right that the VA would deny benefits. “We can spend…billions reclaiming the land in Vietnam because of dioxin and these guys are hung out to dry,” Bloom said. “It’s just not right.”

Bloom says surveys show there’s enough support in the Senate to pass the plan – if only it gets out of committee before the end of the year. She’s frustrated but holding on to hope. “Move it to the Senate for a vote,” Bloom says. “It’s as simple as that. Do the right thing.”

The House approved plan calls for adding a new fee to VA home loans to pay for the estimated $1.1 billion cost of the benefits.

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