New bill to aid vets hurt by Agent Orange - by land & sea
BY Jake Pearson DAILY NEWS WRITER
Wednesday, October 28th 2009, 4:00 AM
Bobby Condon was a young kid from Flatbush when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy to fight in the Vietnam War.Nicknamed "Brooklyn" by fellow soldiers, Condon, now 63, has developed an Agent Orange-linked cancer - but was denied coverage by the Veterans Administration because he never set foot in Vietnam.
"I would have flown to Saigon and put my feet on the ground for 30 minutes [had I known]," said Condon, a flight operator on the USS Intrepid who last year was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), an incurable form of cancer. "But I was denied and I didn't get nothing."
This week, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand will introduce legislation that will require coverage for the estimated 800,000 nationwide "blue-water vets," like Condon, who have illnesses linked to Agent Orange exposure but never set foot in Vietnam.
"Because of technicality in the law, hundreds of thousands of American veterans are being denied the health care benefits they need and deserve," said Gillibrand, adding there are about 13,500 such veterans in New York State.
The U.S. military dumped nearly 20 million gallons of the deadly herbicide to remove foliage during the Vietnam War. In 1991, Congress passed legislation requiring the VA to cover all sicknesses linked to Agent Orange exposure. But in 2002, the VA changed its policy to cover only those veterans who had "boots on the ground," excluding sailors and pilots such as Condon.
"I didn't even hear about Agent Orange until I came back," said Condon, who believes he got sick from working on planes that were flown through Agent Orange drop zones.
A spokesman for the VA wouldn't comment on pending legislation.