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Veterans Benefits Information

Victory for Blue Water Navy veterans

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The Department of Justice, in a filing with the Supreme Court June 4, said they would not appeal against the federal court ruling extending disability benefits for Agent Orange exposure to Blue Water Navy veterans. The Procopio v. Wilkie decision was a major victory for Blue Water Navy veterans in their long fight for VA benefits to treat illnesses linked to exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in January ruled in favor of Alfred Procopio Jr., who served aboard the USS Intrepid during the war. Procopio, 73, suffers from diabetes and prostate cancer, both of which are linked to Agent Orange exposure.

“Mr. Procopio is entitled to a presumption of service connection for his prostate cancer and diabetes mellitus. Accordingly, we reverse," read the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit Court.

“We find no merit in the government’s arguments to the contrary,” added Judge Kimberly A. Moore, who wrote on behalf of the majority.

“The Procopio decision finally — after nearly 50 years — gives these Navy veterans what they rightfully deserve,” said Ralph Bozella, chairman of The American Legion's National Veteran Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission. “The Department of Justice is doing the just thing for these veterans and offering closure in their long fight for the benefits they earned.”

One of the Department of Veterans Affairs concerns about awarding benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans was due to cost. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that awarding disability benefits these veterans could total approximately $1.1 billion over 10 years, but VA officials estimate the cost could be closer to $5.5 billion.

“The cost of caring for veterans after a wartime experience should never be a deterrent to what a veteran earns in benefits,” Bozella said. “It is long past time for this to be taking place.”

American Legion National Commander Brett Reistad, at the time of the January verdict, called the ruling in favor of Procopio Jr., “a step in the right direction” for some 90,000 veterans who served offshore and may be suffering from conditions related to exposure to Agent Orange. VA recognizes 14 adverse conditions as presumptively linked to exposure to the chemical herbicide used to defoliate jungle vegetation that provided the enemy cover during the war.

Veterans who served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975 are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange if diagnosed with a medical condition associated with the herbicide, according to the Agent Orange Act of 1991. Presumptive diseases of exposure to the herbicide include certain cancers, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes. This act applied only to veterans who served on land and in Vietnam’s inland waterways, excluding those who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam. The Procopio decision extends these benefits to any military personnel who served on any vessel during the Vietnam War that came within 12 nautical miles of the coastlines of Vietnam.

H.R. 299, The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, remains active in Congress, having passed unanimously out of the House of Representatives with a vote of 410-0. The May 14 vote marked the second time the legislation passed unanimously through the House. The effort previously failed to pass by unanimous consent in the Senate during the 115th Congress.

H.R. 299 further expands coverage and includes provisions not covered by the Procopio decision, including that every veteran exposed to herbicides like Agent Orange should receive the same presumptive benefits. A provision in H.R. 299 states that “A veteran who, during active military, naval, or air service, served offshore of the Republic of Vietnam during the period beginning on January 9, 1962, and ending on May 7, 1975,” be eligible for disability compensation for presumptive conditions of herbicide exposure. This will allow veterans who fall into that category and whose claims have been denied or held in pending status to gain access to VA medical care for conditions on the presumptive list.

H.R. 299 will afford spouses of certain veterans whose death was caused by a service-connected disability access to pension benefits. The bill also provides the children of veterans of covered service in Thailand who suffer from spina bifida access to health care, vocational training and rehabilitation, and monetary allowance.

“The American Legion will continue to support this legislation, to include common sense amendments, that will provide the broadest definition of service in the Vietnam War,” American Legion Director of Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Chanin Nuntavong said in a press conference ahead of the May vote. “We hold this firm position because both the law, Procopio, and the science, are on the side of presuming Agent Orange exposure for military personnel who served in the waters surrounding Vietnam.”

Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., and Ranking member Phil Roe, R-Tenn., of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs issued a joint statement June 4 urging the Senate to pass the legislation.


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Normandy – ‘No better place for The American Legion’

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Included among the thousands of Americans and Europeans who observed the 75th anniversary of D-Day at the site of its heaviest action was an American Legion Family delegation led by National Commander Brett P. Reistad. It was a duty Reistad gladly assumed.

“The American Military Cemetery at Normandy is where so many young heroes of that fateful battle rest-in-peace,” Reistad said. “Some also served in World War I, such as Teddy Roosevelt, Jr., one of our most prominent founders. This year’s observance will be the last large gathering for many of the surviving D-Day veterans. It was appropriate and moving that President Trump, French President Emanuel Macron and their wives attended this event and paid tribute to these heroes. I can think of no better place for The American Legion to be.”

Trump’s remarks were well-received by the crowd which included many U.S. military servicemembers stationed in Europe. He recalled the sacrifices that a previous generation had made three quarters of a century ago.

“These men ran through the fires of hell moved by a force no weapon could destroy: the fierce patriotism of a free, proud and sovereign people,” Trump said. “They battled not for control and domination, but for liberty, democracy and self-rule.”

Macron made it clear that France has not forgotten the lives lost in the battle to liberate the nation. “On behalf of France, I bow down before their bravery, I bow down before their immense sacrifice of those killed and those missing, who died as heroes in Normandy between June and August 1944 and for many were to rest there for eternity,” Macron said.

Trump’s address, which was interrupted by applause several times as video monitors panned to World War II veterans in attendance, was as much a tribute to the fallen as to those who survived.

“Seven decades ago, the warriors of D-Day fought a sinister enemy who spoke of a thousand-year empire,” he said. “In defeating that evil, they left a legacy that will not only last for a thousand years, but for all time – for as long as the soul knows of duty and honor; for as long as freedom keeps its hold on the human heart.

To the men who sit behind me, and to the boys who rest in the field before me, you example will never, ever grow old. Your legend will never tire. Your spirit-brave, unyielding and true – will never die.”


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Trump Honors D-Day Sacrifices, With Some Legacies Unspoken

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While paying tribute to veterans, the president said little about the institutions built after World War II that are fraying under populist movements.

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White House visit ends an ‘amazing opportunity’ for Legion scholars

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A visit to the White House started the morning off June 6 for the nine Samsung American Legion National Scholars who are being honored in Washington, D.C., for their achievement of receiving the $10,000 scholarship last year. It was the first time many of the scholars had been inside the home of the U.S. president.

Rebecka Denney of Duchesne, Utah, found the White House to be “breathtaking” and that the visit was “definitely an amazing experience,” she said. “I feel like this whole tour (the past two days) has just been angled to our group. It’s so cool all the unique things that’s happened for us.”

Before departing for home, the scholars also visited The American Legion’s office in D.C. where they had lunch and heard about the lobbying efforts the organization does on behalf of all veterans and servicemembers.

“This trip has been really awesome,” said Garrett Geidel of Camden, Del., who will be attending the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill this fall. “Being able to interact with other kids who have a similar mindset to me, not all of us actually going into the same career path, but we have a lot of the same ideas about how America should be and what we can do as Americans to serve our country in different ways. I am very grateful for the opportunities the Samsung American Legion Scholarship has afforded me, and will continue to afford me for the rest of my life.”

Geidel’s grandfather, who made him eligible for the scholarship, served stateside in the Coast Guard during the Korean War. Geidel said receiving the scholarship has shown his grandfather the long-term impact his service is having on today’s youth.

“In some ways I don’t know if he was proud of his service personally, not that he wasn’t proud of the military, but that he didn’t necessarily make much of an impact. So I think being able to see that (his service is) affecting me and it’s helping the future generations, it really gave him more of a value to his service. And that’s something tangible for him,” Geidel said.

When asked about the highlight of their trip, the scholars agreed the reading of the names of the fallen from Operation Overload at the National World War II Memorial was the most impactful and seeing the Samsung office was at the top as well.

“I am incredibly grateful for the generosity of Samsung and The American Legion for organizing this amazing opportunity for us and for honoring the sacrifices of so many brave men and women," Denney said.


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Recognition of service, sacrifice at the forefront of scholars visit to DC

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On the evening of June 5, the nine Samsung American Legion Scholarship recipients walked one by one to a podium in front of the fountain at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., with a candle in hand as tourists stood by to listen. The scholars each read the names of 20 fallen American servicemembers who gave their lives during Operation Overlord (D-Day, June 6-Aug. 30, 1944) and are buried at Normandy American Cemetery in France.

“This was so amazing because as we reflect upon people who have served our country and people who have done so much for us, I feel like it’s really easy to just place them as names,” said Rebecka Denney of Duchesne, Utah, who will be attending Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. “But going up and having this opportunity to read the names at this celebration has made me feel that they are not just names on a piece of paper, they are actual people. And realizing the sacrifice that they made so that I can be here to read the names just meant so much to me. It’s so astounding.”

The remembrance ceremony was conducted by the Friends of the National World War II Memorial. From 5:30 p.m. until midnight, volunteers read the names of the nearly 9,000 servicemembers buried at the Normandy American Cemetery.

The reading of the names “was a very surreal experience. Just to get up there and read off the names of people who have given so much for this country,” said Jared Goetz of Coulee City, Wash., who will be attending Washington State University. “To read a name from the greatest generation, to bring honor to someone’s family, and to give them recognition for what they did was beyond a humbling experience.”

Prior to visiting the National World War II Memorial, the scholars visited the Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery.

Last weekend, the grandfather of James Alwin celebrated his graduation and future of attending the University of North Dakota to continue his passion for flying. “As he was leaving he started to tear up as he was saying how proud he was of me,” said Alwin of Oconto, Wis. “When I called to tell him that I received the (Samsung American Legion Scholarship) in his honor for him serving (in the Korean War) he said he never even dreamed that his service would carry on for so many generations and what effect it could have on people. His service has truly given me a respect for what my actions can have on future generations.”

Max Bowman visited D.C. when he was in grade school, but through history class in high school he better understands “the context behind these memorials. And after receiving the scholarship, I think a lot more about how my (late) grandfather was intertwined in history as well. I think it’s a fantastic opportunity to connect with our nation’s history,” said Bowman of Barrington, Ill.

Since arriving in D.C., the scholars have been reminded that while the Samsung American Legion Scholarship recognizes their high academics and community service, it’s a tribute and honor to their family who has served. And Denney understands that.

“This scholarship doesn’t just recognize me, but also recognizes the service of my grandad, Art Taylor, who served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War,” she said. “My whole life my granddad has been a model of patriotism to America and I look up to him for that. I could not be more grateful for the sacrifices he has made, along with all the other veterans and active members of the armed forces.”


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