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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Vieques Experiment And The Blue Water Navy

The Vieques Experiment And The Blue Water Navy

USS Newport News

From 1941 until 2003 the U.S. Navy operated a base on Vieques
a government testing ground for biologicals and experimental radiological ordinance. They conducted bombing runs and testing of chemical weapons for use in foreign wars, from Vietnam to Yugoslavia to Iraq. The U.S. government has admitted the presence of napalm, agent orange, depleted uranium, white phosphorous, arsenic, mercury, lead and cadmium on the former bombing range. U.S. Forces training at Vieques have reported firing depleted uranium shells, despite being a violation of federal law. Depleted uranium shells give off extremely toxic tiny radioactive particles once they begin to oxidize. These same particles can travel great distances, propelled by wind and water and once ingested by humans, can expose the host to large doses of radiation. 

Navy vessels sucked in contaminated water and distilled it for use aboard the ships—a process that would have only concentrated the toxin. Every member of the crew would have been exposed: Distilled water was used in showers, to wash laundry, and to prepare food. It was used to make coffee, as well as a sugary beverage known as “bug juice,” which flowed from fountains in the enlisted mess.

Veterans suffering from the effects of exposure to Agent Orange during their term of service to our country, no matter “where” exposure occurred, need to be treated with the same considerations as are presented in the current House bill H.R. 299. (Propose amendment to meet the provisions for: A "Unified" Blue Water Navy Veteran's Bill) During the Vietnam Era, many Blue Water Navy Veterans were involved in other combat missions around the globe. It was necessary to experiment with new ordinance and procedures and thus bombing missions were an important component of our readiness to serve our country. 

During the years of 1963-1966, I served aboard the flagship U.S.S. Newport News CA 148 as a member of Admiral Kleber Masterson’s staff. We conducted several missions in and around the island of Vieques where we were exposed to Agent Orange and many other toxic agents as I will present below. I have since, suffered from painful and progressive peripheral neuropathy followed by the onset of Diabetes Mellitus Type II. I am one of eight in my immediate family and the only one in my entire lineage to have developed this disease. My file has been tucked away in the appeals process since the initial filing in 2010.

Delay, Deny Until They Die.

By GPD on January 3, 2017. (WFLA) — America's veterans. “They put their lives on the line protecting your freedoms. But, what about the rights and benefits they earned? Hundreds of thousands are waging prolonged battles with the Department of Veterans Affairs. They are told they are dead when they are alive. Poisoned at Camp Lejeune, exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, Thailand and Elsewhere, they find themselves on waiting lists to see doctors and for benefits. Their appeals cases take longer to settle than America’s involvement in World Wars.”
Vieques must be included for presumptive exposure to Agent Orange, depleted uranium, heavy metals, etc. The facts surrounding the contamination there are irrefutable and the evidence is set out below. 

In February 2005, the EPA identified Vieques as a Superfund site, which placed the cleanup of hazardous sites in federal hands. VA Secretary Robert McDonald wrote that the “VA is obligated to assess the factual and scientific basis for granting disability compensation for all claims, including those associated with Agent Orange exposure. For Veterans who served in the offshore territorial seas of the Republic of Vietnam, there is insufficient evidence to establish a presumption that they were exposed to Agent Orange. 

The inconsistency in VA policy is “maddening,” said John Wells, a Louisiana lawyer who’s spent more than a decade advocating for Blue Water veterans. “The VA has a way of making simple things complicated,” Wells said. “To me, it’s simple: Agent Orange was mixed with petroleum and sprayed in the rivers. Diesel fuel floats. The rivers lead to the bays, and bays lead to the sea, and seawater was pulled into ships and turned into drinking water.” Although military policy at the time recommended against distilling water closer than 10 miles to shore—where the chemical concentration would have been highest—veterans said doing so was often unavoidable, and their commanding officers routinely ordered it. 

The Institute of Medicine used a theoretical model to assess the desalination process from the 1960s, which used a high-heat flash to evaporate saltwater and collect the salt-free condensation. The researchers found that the process wouldn’t have removed dioxin from the water, but instead would have enriched it by a factor of 10. Due to a lack of physical evidence, the researchers conceded that they "could not state with certainty” that any Vietnam veteran was exposed to Agent Orange. “Indeed,” the authors wrote, “the committee believes that given the lack of measurements taken during the war and the almost 40 years since the war, this will never be a matter of science but instead a matter of policy.” 

Based on a similar study conducted a decade earlier, which actually replicated the shipboard distillation process, the Australian Department of Veterans’ Affairs made a different policy decision: It presumes its navy veterans were exposed to Agent Orange off the coast of Vietnam and compensates them for associated ailments. "CODISTILLATION DURING POTABLE WATER TREATMENT: ANALYSIS OF THE AUSTRALIAN STUDY"

The Navy in Vieques did not limit itself to testing naval ordnance. Sherrie Baver, a professor of Political Science at The City University of New York, in an article about the U.S. government’s use of various chemical weapons on the island, specifically addressed the release of triocyl phosphate. This chemical is associated with several medical issues involving the skin and respiratory tract and has been shown to cause cancer in animals.12 During the Vietnam War, the Navy also tested Agent Orange, a dangerous herbicide used in Vieques. Agent Orange has been shown to cause debilitating birth defects in children whose mothers had been exposed to the noxious chemical. In addition, veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during the war faced higher rates of cancer, nervous system disorders and respiratory problems.

According to the Navy’s figures, throughout the course of six decades about 5 million pounds (2,000 t) of ordnance was dropped on Vieques every year. Ordnance included toxic compounds and elements such as arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, depleted uranium and napalm, and tons of a fiberglass-like substance. Most of these toxins are persistent, meaning that they bioaccumulate.[18]

The military fired and dropped millions of pounds of bombs, rockets and  artillery shells, including napalm, depleted uranium and Agent Orange, on  Vieques. A cleanup began in 2005 to clear thousands of unexploded munitions  from the former range, which is now a Fish and Wildlife Service refuge, and  the island has placed new emphasis on tourism.

The US imposed a military government on Puerto Rico a century ago when it was seized from the Spanish. The island of Vieques (40 miles off the coast, population 5,500) has been used for target practise by the US military for the last 60 years. Since 1980 it has been used for test firing of depleted uranium munitions, chemical contaminants have found their way into ground water, local crabs have 20 times the normal levels of heavy metals, cancer rates amongst the island’s population is twice the national average.

The "Pay As You Go Act" has been an impediment to the urgent and necessary treatment of Blue Water Navy Veterans regarding exposure to and subsequent health consequences of Agent Orange. Veteran's who are now suffering from such exposures are in their senior years and there needs to be a judicious and expeditious "work around" for these veterans. Due to the urgency that these BWN Veterans are facing, benefits need to be immediately exempted from the obstructive provisions of the "Pay As You Go Act."

Hope for Toxicity Victims around the Navy’s Vieques Island Bio Weapons Site?

Delay, Deny Until They Die-WFLA Expose'

Notice of Disagreement and or Appeal for Blue Water Navy Vets
Blue Water Navy Veterans and Agent Orange 
EPA Superfund Site 

CNN Paradise Lost
Punishing Vieques

Justice For Vieques
Vieques Blog
Vieques Drop Box

by Mike Hixenbaugh (The Virginian-Pilot), Charles Ornstein and Terry Parris
During the Vietnam War <>, hundreds of U.S.
Navy ships crossed into Vietnam’s rivers or sent crew members ashore,
possibly exposing their sailors to the toxic herbicide Agent Orange. But
more than 40 years after the war’s end, the U.S. government doesn’t have a
full accounting of which ships traveled where, adding hurdles and delays
for sick Navy veterans seeking compensation
The Navy could find out where each of its ships operated during the war,
but it hasn’t. The U.S. Department of Affairs says it won’t either,
instead choosing to research ship locations on a case-by-case basis, an
extra step that veterans say can add months — even years — to an already
cumbersome claims process. Bills that would have forced the
<> to create a
comprehensive list have failed in Congress.
As a result, many ailing vets, in a frustrating race against time as they
battle cancer or other life-threatening diseases, have taken it upon
themselves to prove their ships served in areas where Agent Orange was
sprayed. That often means locating and sifting through stacks of deck logs,
finding former shipmates who can attest to their movements, or tracking
down a ship’s command history from the Navy’s historical archive.
[image: Deepwater Horizon Book: The Untold Story of the Gulf Oil Disaster]
Book: Deepwater Horizon Book: The Untold Story of the Gulf Oil Disaster
John Konrad
“It’s hell,” said Ed Marciniak, of Pensacola, Fla., who served aboard the USS
Jamestown <> during the war. “The Navy should
be going to the VA and telling them, ‘This is how people got aboard the
ship, this is where they got off, this is how they operated.’ Instead, they
put that burden on old, sick, dying veterans, or worse — their widows.”
Some 2.6 million Vietnam veterans are thought to have been exposed to — and
possibly harmed by — Agent Orange, which the U.S. military used to
defoliate dense forests, making it easier to spot enemy troops. But vets
are only eligible for VA compensation
they went on land — earning a status called “boots on the ground” — or if
their ships entered Vietnam’s rivers, however briefly.
The VA says veterans aren’t required to prove where their ships patrolled:
“Veterans simply need to state approximately when and where they were in
Vietnam waterways or went ashore, and the name of the vessel they were
aboard, and VA will obtain the official Navy records necessary to
substantiate the claimed service,” VA spokesman Randal Noller wrote in an
Once the VA has that documentation, the vessel is added to a list of ships
eligible for compensation, streamlining future claims from other
crewmembers. But proactively searching thousands of naval records to build
a comprehensive list of eligible ships — as some veterans have demanded —
“would be an inefficient use of VA’s resources,” Noller said.
But because the historical records are sometimes missing or incomplete,
veterans groups say the fastest and surest way to obtain benefits is for
vets to gather records themselves and submit them as part of their initial
More than 700 Navy ships deployed to Vietnam between 1962 and 1975.
Veterans have produced records to get about half of them onto the VA’s
working list <>,
with new ships being added every year. Still, veterans advocacy groups estimate
about 90,000 Navy vets
not eligible to receive benefits related to Agent Orange exposure, either
because their ships never entered inland waters, or because they have yet
to prove they did.
Joseph Pires, 68, spent 2 1/2 years working to convince the VA that his
ship, the aircraft carrier USS Bennington
<>, should be added to the list.
He reviewed the daily deck logs to find the latitude and longitude
recordings and read officers’ descriptions of the ship’s movements. He found
a listing for Dec. 26, 1966
when the ship entered Qui Nhon Bay Harbor to pick up comedian Bob Hope and
his troupe for an onboard Christmas show.
“Now I had the proof,” he said.
He submitted it to the VA, waited a year and received an email on Dec. 31
notifying him the Bennington had been added to the VA’s list. That makes
about 2,800 crew members aboard the ship on those two days eligible for
benefits if they have illnesses associated with Agent Orange.
Now Pires is waging the next battle: His personal application for benefits,
based on his prostate cancer and ischemic heart disease, has been pending
for nine months.
“They put everything on your shoulders,” said Pires, who serves as the
Bennington’s historian.
Pires, of Calabash, N.C., is among more than 4,000 Vietnam veterans and
family members from across the country who’ve shared Agent Orange-exposure
stories with ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot
the past several months.
The importance of proving to the VA which ships went inland during the war
was underscored last month, when the VA rejected a request
veterans and members of Congress to extend benefits to all Navy veterans
who served within 12 miles of the Vietnamese coast, the so-called Blue
Water veterans <>. Those vets
believe they were exposed to Agent Orange even if they stayed off the
coast, arguing that their ships sucked in water tainted with the herbicide,
which contains the dangerous chemical dioxin, and used it for showering,
cooking and cleaning.
When Congress passed the Agent Orange Act in 1991
<>, the VA
initially approved benefits for any sailor who had earned the Vietnam
Service Medal. But in 2002, it began denying sick Blue Water Navy vets
compensation for Agent Orange exposure, maintaining that the placement of a
comma in the original legislation made a distinction between those who
served on the ground in Vietnam and those who served elsewhere.
Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims directed the VA
<> to review its
rules for compensating Blue Water Navy Veterans. In February, 10 months
later, the VA affirmed its policy
providing benefits only to those who served on land or in inland waters. If
anything, the VA tightened its policy by excluding ships that entered
certain bays and harbors that had previously been accepted.
The VA estimates it would cost
$4.4 billion
the next decade to provide benefits to all Blue Water veterans, but its
policy of excluding them has complicated the task of determining who’s
eligible for compensation.
By 2006, veterans had begun presenting evidence of those ships’ activities,
and the VA began granting Agent Orange benefits to Blue Water veterans on a
case-by-case basis. A couple years later, veterans advocates succeeded in
convincing the VA to use the evidence submitted by individual veterans to
maintain a list of approved ships.
John Rossie, executive director of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans
Association and a Vietnam veteran, agreed to help the government collect
information from affected veterans, hoping to speed up the process. He said
he put out a message in 2009 telling Navy vets that if they sent him their
ship’s deck logs, he would get them to the VA.
“A month later, I smacked myself on the forehead, because I started getting
buried under boxes full of these deck logs.”
The first published list came out in January 2010 and had 16 ships on it.
As veterans have come forward with records — and as the VA has conducted
its own searches — the agency has added a few dozen ships each year. More
than 430 ships are listed now
<>. The pace has
slowed, but Rossie is confident more need to be added.
“It’s been a lot of work,” Rossie said. “A lot of individuals have invested
a lot of hours in this.”
To make the process easier, Blue Water vets pressed for legislation in 2013
<> that would
have required the Navy to pull all of the deck logs and compile an accurate
accounting of which ships spent time inside Vietnam’s border. That bill
passed the House, 404–1, but didn’t advance in the Senate.
A year later, in 2014, advocates got the House to insert language into the
National Defense Authorization Act
<…/113th-congr…/house-bill/4435/text> that
would have required the same thing. John Wells, a Louisiana lawyer who has
spent more than a decade advocating for Blue Water veterans, said the
language was stripped from the Senate version after the Navy objected,
contending it would cost the service $5 million to conduct a study to
locate each ship.
The Navy did not answer questions for this story.
Marciniak, the veteran from Pensacola, says he was fortunate. He’d held
onto paperwork proving that he’d spent time in Saigon before flying back to
the U.S.
That yellowing page spelling out his orders was enough to prove to the VA
that the 76-year-old Navy vet was eligible for compensation after he was
diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and heart disease a few years ago. The claim
was approved in 2013, a year and a half after he initiated the process.
Others he served with aboard the Jamestown, a research vessel, off the
coast of Vietnam had a harder fight. The ship, along with the USS Oxford,
intercepted enemy radio traffic and frequently sent crew members ashore to
deliver sensitive information to commanders on the ground. As a result, the
ships’ activities were classified, making it more difficult for veterans to
come up with records proving where they served.
Former Oxford and Jamestown crewmembers were eventually able to get their
hands on declassified command reports that included details about the trips
ashore. Those records helped get both ships added to the VA’s list in 2011.
“Even with the ship listed, it took the VA more than 18 months before they
approved my claim,” Marciniak said. “I’ve written letters for three widows
addressed to the VA explaining how the the Jamestown operated and
describing our regular courier runs, because their husbands’ died before
they were able to get VA compensation.”
Another challenge: Veterans who were denied benefits before their ships
were added to the list must start the process all over again. “The problem
there,” Rossie said, “is these guys are sick and dying. They don’t have a
lot of time to jump through hoops.”
Rory Riley-Topping, a consultant and former staff director for the House VA
Subcommittee on disability assistance and memorial affairs, said the VA has
many pressing issues to deal with — health care wait times, construction
delays, benefits backlogs. “Bureaucracies that are large are not known for
their efficiencies, and this is a great example of bureaucracies being
shortsighted and not understanding the big picture. A lot of people thought
this issue would go away, and obviously it didn’t.”
For John Kirkwood, the push to get the amphibious command ship USS Mount
McKinley <>added began in March 2010 when
he went to the VA hospital in San Diego because he wasn’t feeling well. He
spent 40 days in the hospital after a heart attack. His wife and
stepdaughter initiated a claim for benefits. A little over a year later, it
was denied because he couldn’t prove he was in Vietnam or exposed to Agent
Kirkwood wasn’t able to get deck logs from the National Archives or the
Navy. Both said they didn’t have them and had no idea where they were. “I
didn’t know what the hell to think at that point,” said Kirkwood, a
66-year-old retired auto body technician.
In May 2011, he posted a note on the ship’s website that read, “I was a
shipmate of yours on the last cruise of the Mount McKinley in 1969. The
purpose of this comment is to see if any of you remember going into Da Nang
harbor on that cruise for liberty, parties at China Beach and water skiing
in the harbor behind the Captain’s Gig.”
Emails began streaming in from shipmates he knew and those he didn’t. “I
remember going ashore,” one wrote in an email he shared with ProPublica and
The Pilot.
“You are not the first one to ask these questions,” another wrote.
Kirkwood also found a cruise book in his garage, which is essentially a
scrapbook of the tour. “I was able to take photocopies out of there showing
that we actually went to Da Nang Harbor,” he said. “I can’t make up a
cruise book.”
A fellow shipmate sent him a calendar he kept
showing the ship was anchored in Da Nang Harbor over 60 days of that
cruise. Kirkwood’s own claim for benefits was approved in January 2013.
Kirkwood then forwarded his documentation to Rossie, who forwarded it to
the VA. The ship was added to the VA’s list in July of that year.
“Sometimes I felt I was fighting a losing battle, but I’m persistent,”
Kirkwood said.
Others are still fighting. Brad Davidson began researching the process in
November after being diagnosed with two conditions associated with Agent
Davidson, who declined to disclose his specific health troubles, remembered
going ashore for leisure breaks multiple times during his deployment aboard
the destroyer USS Brinkley Bass <> in 1970,
but he had no records to prove it. He tracked down the deck logs, which
showed the ship spent time anchored in Da Nang Harbor, Cam Ranh Bay and
Ganh Rai Bay, but nothing in the handwritten notes mentioned crew members
being ferried ashore during those stops.
“That is a problem, trying to get a clear recollection all these years
later,” said Davidson, 69, who lives near Chicago. “And beyond that,
getting hard evidence. … They don’t make it easy.”
Earlier this year he got in touch with his crew’s reunion group, and a few
former shipmates responded with photographs of crew members at a beach
party at Cam Ranh.
His memories from that time are a blur, Davidson said, but that afternoon
spent drinking beer on a beach 46 years ago could be the difference between
receiving thousands of dollars per year in disability benefits and
receiving nothing.
“I think we’ve certainly convinced ourselves,” Davidson said. “But we’re
not sure what it’s going to take to get us on the VA’s list. We think it’s
enough, but we don’t know for sure what the VA requires.”
He faces an uphill battle. Generally, the VA hasn’t accepted photographs to
prove a veteran spent time on the ground in Vietnam. Davidson hopes the
agency makes an exception in his case.
“I don’t really have time to wait and find out.”
ProPublica and the Virginian-Pilot are interested in hearing from veterans
and family members for our ongoing investigation into the effects of Agent
Orange on veterans and their children. Share your story now at <> or