Results of Our Meeting with the Sectetary of the VA

I have had several requests for a summary of what was accomplished in the recent meeting with VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin, and what the ‘outcomes’ were. On Friday, April 28, I had the opportunity to meet with the new VA Secretary and to present to him the Blue Water Navy Association’s views on what needs to be done for the BWN sailors/Marines and why. I was accompanied by our legal advisor and attorney John Wells, Suzie Belanger, our Director of Special Projects, and a couple reps from FRA and Assoc. of the Navy. Secretary Shulkin listened for over an hour to our concerns that focused on what we see wrong with the current VA policy towards BWN and what could be done to fix it.

It was a great honor to meet Secretary Shulkin. I had a chance to talk with him about the lack of medical or scientific evidence that precludes the VA from simply drawing a line at the water’s edge and stating that no one offshore was exposed to the dioxin content of Agent Orange. The Blue Water Navy Association requested that Secretary Shulkin move “the line” out at least 60 miles from shore in order to provide health care to the estimated 18,400 Blue Water Navy veterans who would not receive VA benefits under the currently proposed legislation. Limiting coverage to the Territorial Seas, which includes ports and harbors surrounded on three sides by land, will leave out those 18,400 veterans who served outside of the area of the Territorial Seas but still within the Vietnam Combat Zone/Theater of Combat. Those are exclusively aircraft carrier crew. Of those veterans, we don’t know who is even still alive or who has any Agent Orange-related diseases, so our estimate of the actual number of claims from that group would be less than half that figure; perhaps much less than even that.

You can’t tell a lot about someone in a setting like that, even over an hour’s time. But I do feel comfortable to say that I can usually get a sense of their underlying character. My gut feel regarding the Secretary is that he is an honest man of integrity who has a genuine interest in learning alternative points of view than he was receiving internally at the VA about issues facing the Department and specifically about the Blue Water Navy . I believe he was genuinely interested in everything we had to say.

Can I predict what he is likely to do with the information? No. However, I am confident to say that he probably now knows more about the problems of BWN sailors than the last three Secretaries combined. But more importantly, I believe he has heard more of “our side of the story” than those last three Secretaries.

Just like earlier, we are still in a “wait-and-see” holding pattern regarding anything the VA Secretary can do for us, as well as the outcome of the legislation (HR-299 and S-422) and of the litigation, which just had oral arguments on May 5th. I could say everything seems really positive, but that wouldn't mean a hill of beans until something actually happens.

John Rossie, Executive Director
May 10, 2017

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