Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans are one step closer to receiving Agent Orange disability compensation after it passed the U.S. House earlier this week.
The Department of Veterans Affairs does not grant Agent Orange benefits to ‘Blue Water’ navy veterans who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam.
"We joined the military to serve our country," Vietnam veteran Dick Seppala, a Maplewood resident, said. "When our country should be helping us, they ignore us, we are ignored."
Back in the 1960s, Seppala would type in the coordinates radioed to him from ground troops into a ship’s computer to fire shells from the massive guns on board.
"We were providing gunfire support anywhere along the coastline," he said.
"They saw Agent Orange in my application for benefits ... they said 'No, you're Blue Water Navy,'” Seppala said.
Agent Orange was a herbicide and defoliant chemical that the military sprayed from planes during Vietnam.
The VA has associated exposure to diseases including certain cancers, nervous system conditions and Type 2 diabetes.
Veterans who set foot in Vietnam or in the inland waterways are presumed to have had exposure to Agent Orange, granting them additional benefits from the government.
"This bill has never made it past a committee, let alone past the House," Stars & Stripes veterans reporter Nikki Wentling said. "These veterans have been trying for decades."
Wentling watched the vote on Monday and says H.R. 299 is now in the Senate.
"There's no indication of when a vote could come," she said. "I think it will really be these veterans holding their feet to the fire to get this to the Senate floor," Wentling said.
"It’s obviously a major issue for them and will have a major impact on their lifestyle,” Minnesota Veterans of Foreign Wars State Director Tom Hanson said.
"Funding for that is where they’ve always had issues," he added
H.R. 299 calls for the funding to come from a change in the fee rates for those who use VA home loans starting in January, it does not affect those currently with a VA loan.