- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dear Sgt Shaft,

The National Association for Uniformed Services (NAUS) recently sent letters to members of Congress urging their support of H.R. 23, the belated thank-you to merchant mariners of World War II.

We noted in our letter, “U.S. Merchant Marine Combat Veterans received no help and little recognition after the war from the government they served. They missed out on the GI bill for their education, the GI Home Loan Program for purchase of their family home and related earned benefits, not to mention the cost of the medical care they underwent for the wounds, illnesses and injuries they experienced.” In short, “Their service was shelved and taken for granted.”

It wasnt until decades later, 44 years to be exact, that Congress granted veterans status to these deserving individuals. Long after other veterans had used the generous benefits our nation provided and received the necessary medical care to treat their wounds.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the GI Bill in 1944, he said, “I trust Congress will soon provide similar opportunities to members of the Merchant Marine, who risked their lives time and again during the war for their country.”

Fewer than 10,000 of these brave men, who challenged our enemy at sea and helped win the war, remain today. All are of extended age and time is quickly running out for Congress to express appreciation for their service as Roosevelt intended.

H.R. 23 was approved by the full House on May 12. That bill and its Senate companion, S. 663, now await Senate action. We sincerely hope Congress wont squander this opportunity to recognize the few remaining World War II era merchant mariners and I invite you and your readers to support this effort.

Sincerely,

William M. Matz, Jr., MG USA (retired)

President

National Association for Uniformed Services

Dear General Matz,

My late Uncle Paul was proud to serve as a merchant mariner and was very appreciative of being able to use the VA Medical Center, or, as he would say in Pennsylvania speak, “the Vets.” Although he and his family would not benefit from this legislation, I know he would join me in urging the Senate to finally say, “thank you” to his fellow merchant mariners.

Shaft Notes

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner, California Democrat, announced the introduction of H.R. 2254, a bill to restore equity to all Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange.

“We owe it to our veterans to fulfill the promises made to them as a result of their service,” Mr. Filner said. “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, but I believe this Congress will not allow our veterans to be cheated of their earned benefits.”

H.R. 2254 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. It was also stored on U.S. vessels and used for vegetation-clearing purposes around U.S. bases, landing zones and lines of communication.

Currently, VA requires Vietnam veterans to prove a “foot on land” occurrence in order to qualify for the presumptions of service connection for herbicide-exposure-related illnesses afforded under current law. This issue has been the subject of much litigation. 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.

H.R. 2254 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. If enacted, this bill will make it easier for VA to process Vietnam War veterans’ claims for service-connected conditions that are linked to toxic exposures during the Vietnam War and that are identified in current law.

Rep. John Hall, New York Democrat, chairs the House Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee on disability assistance and memorial affairs, which has jurisdiction over these issues. He stated: “With this legislation, Congress will leave no doubt that the ‘blue water Navy’ and all combat veterans of Vietnam are intended to be covered and compensated; thus ensuring that these veterans will receive the disability benefits they earned and deserve for exposure to Agent Orange. This is the cost of war. We asked these brave men and women to fight for us and serve their country, and it is a grave injustice that they have had to wait this long for treatment. We must place care of our soldiers among our top priorities. This applies for all past, present, and future conflicts.”

“Time is running out for these veterans,” concluded Mr. Filner. “Many are dying from their Agent Orange related diseases, uncompensated for their sacrifice.

c Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or e-mail [email protected]

“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.”

- Rep. Bob Filner on H.R. 2254

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