Current policy presents excessive obstacles for Blue Water Navy veterans seeking care and benefits for health conditions caused by exposure to toxic chemicals while serving aboard Navy ships in Vietnam
Jan 13 2016
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine joined a bipartisan group of 12 Senators in urging the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to change inconsistent and burdensome regulations placed on “Blue Water Navy” veterans seeking health care and benefits for conditions resulting from exposure to toxic chemicals during their service aboard Navy ships in Vietnam. Prior to 2002, veterans serving in Vietnam as well as within the territorial waters had presumptive coverage for Agent Orange related symptoms. Since 2002, only veterans serving within the land boundaries of Vietnam are presumed to have health conditions resulting from chemical exposure; veterans who did not serve on the ground yet suffer from exposure-related conditions are required to meet a burden of proof to receive VA-provided care and benefits. In their letter to VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald, the Senators requested the VA quickly change this policy to ensure all Vietnam veterans, not just those who served as “boots on the ground” in Vietnam, can easily access and receive the necessary health care for conditions resulting from chemical exposure. In September 2015, Senators Kaine and Warner cosponsored the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015 which would restore coverage to all servicemembers who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
“Thousands of veterans who served on Navy ships during the Vietnam War are suffering from significant health conditions associated with exposure to toxic herbicides,” the Senators wrote. “Although these ‘Blue Water Navy’ veterans served only aboard ships in the territorial waters of Vietnam, many were nonetheless profoundly affected by Agent Orange and other chemicals used as defoliants. … As you did recently by extending the presumption to former reservists who had contact with contaminated C-123 aircraft used to spray herbicides in Vietnam, we urge you to use your rulemaking power to make it easier for Blue Water Navy veterans to find the care they need and deserve.”
The letter was co-signed by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) Cory A. Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Steve Daines (R-MT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
Full text of the letter can be viewed here.