Bipartisan legislation would require V-A to provide benefits to veterans exposed to Agent Orange
Feb 21 2017
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) reintroduced bipartisan legislation to ensure that thousands of Navy veterans from the Vietnam War – known as “Blue Water” veterans for their service in waters off the coast – are eligible to receive disability and health care benefits they have earned for diseases linked to Agent Orange exposure. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would clarify the existing law so that Blue Water veterans, who are currently excluded from receiving these benefits, are covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (V-A) if they served within “territorial seas,” or approximately 12 miles offshore of Vietnam. The bill would also make it easier for the V-A to process these veterans’ claims for service-connected health conditions and alleviate a portion of the V-A’s backlog by extending presumptive coverage of Agent Orange benefits to these veterans.
“Virginia is home to many Vietnam veterans who honorably served their country and paid a high price after being exposed to Agent Orange,” said Sen. Warner. “We should not be discriminating against this group of heroes simply because of how and where they served. They fought just as hard, risked just as much, and deserve to get the benefits they earned.”
“Thousands of Blue Water Navy veterans in Virginia are still facing serious health conditions from exposure to Agent Orange and our country needs to ensure they can access the benefits they deserve,” said Sen. Kaine. “I’m proud to continue my efforts with Senator Warner and a bipartisan group of our colleagues to advocate on behalf of Blue Water veterans and I hope Congress will swiftly pass our bill.”
“VVA strongly supports justice for Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans! This bill would complete the obligation to those who served in the bays, harbors, and territorial seas of the Republic of Vietnam during the period beginning on January 9, 1962, and ending on May 7, 1975 by recognizing exposure to the toxin Agent Orange and ensuring eligibility for all related Federal benefits that come with such presumption under the Agent Orange Act of 1991,” said John Rowan, National President and CEO of Vietnam Veterans of America.
“The VFW strongly agrees with the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims that it is arbitrary and capricious for veterans who have served aboard ships in the coastal waters of Vietnam to be denied presumptive benefits associated with Agent Orange exposure. For this reason, we support your legislation which would end this injustice and ensure Blue Water Navy veterans receive the care and benefits they deserve,” said Raymond Kelley, Director of VFW National Legislative Service.
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed approximately 20 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam to remove jungle foliage. This toxic chemical had devastating health effects on millions serving in Vietnam.
In 1991, Congress passed a law requiring the V-A to provide presumptive coverage to Vietnam veterans with illnesses that the Institute of Medicine has directly linked to Agent Orange exposure. However, in 2002, the V-A decided that it would only cover Veterans who could prove that they had orders for “boots on the ground” during the Vietnam War. This exclusion prevents thousands of sailors from receiving benefits even though they had significant Agent Orange exposure from drinking and bathing in contaminated water just offshore.
Sens. Warner and Kaine have been pushing for the V-A to soften its position on benefits for Blue Water veterans. Last year, they wrote to the department requesting the V-A to reconsider the unnecessary burdens it has placed on this group.
In addition to Sens. Warner and Kaine, the legislation is sponsored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Steve Daines (R-MT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Edward Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Gary Peters (D-MI), Rob Portman (R-OH), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Jon Tester (D-MT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ron Wyden (D-OR).
The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act was previously introduced in the 114th Congress.