No one thought we could do it! We were told that you cannot beat the VA! We were told to give up and go home. We didn’t listen!
In 2002, the VA, with a stroke of a pen, eliminated Agent Orange benefits for 229,000 veterans who served in the waters offshore Vietnam. In 2008, a federal appeals court reviewed and sustained the VA decision. It appeared to everyone that the issue was dead. These veterans appeared to have lost!
Then we took control. Since its founding in 2012, Louisiana based Military-Veterans Advocacy (MVA) has pursued a unique and successful approach to helping the nation’s veterans by blending litigation, legislation and education strategies. Working in the courts and the halls of Congress, MVA has fought to obtain and protect benefits for military personnel and veterans.
For over a decade, MVA fought to restore the presumption of Agent Orange exposure to the ships in the territorial sea of the Republic of Vietnam. We were constantly told that we would never succeed due to the cost of the expansion. Our volunteer board visited every Congressional and Senatorial office to plead for the revival of these benefits. Although we had significant support, the cost of the bill was prohibitive. We actually pushed a bill through the House of Representatives in 2018 only to see it stalled in the Senate. Again, it appeared that the battle was lost.
Faced with resistance in the Senate, MVA pursued their litigation approach by arguing in court that the bays, harbors and territorial sea were part of the Republic of Vietnam. Relying upon principles of international law and statutory construction, we convinced the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to overturn existing precedent and recognize benefits for tens of thousands of veterans. That decision, Procopio v. Wilkie, was promulgated by the full court sitting en banc and forced the VA to grant benefits to these veterans. This also cleared the way for passage of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which codified the Procopio decision. Effectively MVA changed the law without any regard for cost. The VA has since moved forward to implement both Procopio and the Congressional action.
Although we won that first important battle, the war is not over. There are still 55,000 veterans who served outside of the territorial sea but were exposed to the herbicide. Tens of thousands of veterans on Guam, Johnston Island, Okinawa, the Panama Canal Zone and in Thailand were also exposed to lethal doses of herbicide. More recently, the victims of burn pit exposure are suffering without the benefit of VA medical care or compensation. Toxic exposure at bases within the United States and Europe remain unrecognized by Congress or the VA. MVA estimates a total of 4.5 million veterans are suffering from military toxic exposure. We intend to help them!
Currently MVA conducts outreach programs on social media and in the print and electronic media to educate veterans and their survivors on toxic exposure and our efforts to cover those who suffer from this exposure. We also conduct Continuing Legal Education seminars to train attorneys on veterans’ law and how to best obtain benefits for their veteran clients.
Our volunteer board and Section Chiefs intend to continue the fight. We will not rest until the VA recognizes and treats all of those who developed service connected diseases as a result of their military service. Your contribution allows us to continue to make trips to Washington, D.C., fight in the federal court system and conduct our educational programs. We cannot do this alone. Your efforts are critical to our success, as we defend those who protect our nation. Please help!