HAGERSTOWN, Md. — Months after the Federal Court of Appeals ruled in favor of thousands of Vietnam vets receiving healthcare coverage for illnesses related to Agent Orange, the secretary for the Department of Veteran Affairs issued a stay on pending claims for Blue Water Navy vets until January 2020.
Blue Water Navy vets are those who served in the territorial sea around Vietnam during the war.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie cited the bill President Trump just signed into law (HR 299) as the authority to allow him to do so.
That means another period of waiting for vets like Joe Lolley, who have already been fighting for more than a decade for benefits.
“It hurts more than I can explain," Lolley said. "You have to count on somebody. We always thought that our government would be the ones there for us. And they’re not.”
Lolley said he had been fighting for 17 years until the court of appeals ruled in favor of vets in the Procopio v. Wilkie case in January.
The VA estimates there are 420,000 to 560,000 Blue Water Navy vets in the country, and they should have been eligible to submit claims when the court issued a formal mandate in March.
“We should have received compensation for the illnesses we contracted from exposure to whatever agents we were exposed to in Vietnam, particularly Agent Orange…and the ruling was very clear on that," Lolley said. "And that is the end of the matter. Well it wasn’t.”
However, Secretary Wilkie issued a stay on pending claims on July 1.
Lolley and Military Veterans Advocacy do not believe the secretary is allowed to do that until the bill takes effect in January 2020, but morally, they're hoping he would not want to do so anyway.
“It’s matters like this … where you get in there okay we’re going to take care of you, and then it’s like ehh not so fast … it’s not right," Lolley said.
In a statement posted to his website, Congressman Phil Roe, who is also a Vietnam vet, said census data shows about 523 Vietnam vets die every day. That's why Lolley says any delay in processing these claims can be dire.
His claim is already pending until August 2020 for his ischemic heart disease, which multiple doctors have connected to Agent Orange, according to medical documents he shared with WUSA9.
And, Lolley said, he's one of the lucky ones.
“These are people’s lives, not just the sailors, but the families," he said. "You know, they’re losing everything...It’s time for somebody to say, it won’t happen anymore, and from this point on we’re going to make it right.”
Military Veterans Advocacy sent this letter to Secretary Wilkie Monday morning requesting he retract the stay or they'll take it to court.