WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senator Steve Daines today called on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to pass his legislation to ensure that Blue Water Navy veterans who are victims of Agent Orange-related diseases receive the care and compensation they have long deserved.
During today’s Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on “Examining the Impact of Exposure to Toxic Chemicals on Veterans and the VA’s Response,” Daines testified on the importance of reversing a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) decision that cut benefits for Vietnam-era Navy veterans, known as “Blue Water” vets, who were exposed to the powerful toxin Agent Orange.
“As the son of a Marine I understand the importance of keeping the promises made to our veterans. Our bill would simply reinstate medical benefits for Blue Water veterans who served on ships within the territorial waters of Vietnam,” Daines stated during today’s hearing. “These Blue Water Navy veterans should have access to the best medical care and not be ignored by the VA. This sort of indifference to our veterans is unacceptable, especially when combined with the constant failure by the VA to do its job. Our nation should not hesitate to invest in the care of these veterans and correct this wrong.”
On March 9, 2015 Daines and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015. This bill would ensure that thousands of “Blue Water” veterans will be eligible to receive disability and health care benefits they have earned for diseases linked to Agent Orange exposure.
A full transcript of Daines’ testimony from today’s hearing is below:
“Thank you Chairman Isakson, Ranking Member Blumenthal, and my colleagues on the Veterans Affairs Committee for allowing me to testify at this very important hearing on ‘Examining the Impact of Exposure to Toxic Chemicals on Veterans and the VA’s Response.’
“Montana veterans have strongly voiced concerns that the VA has not acted in the best interest of our Vietnam veterans exposed to dangerous toxins, especially those who served in the Navy.
“While I continue to call for the Department of Veterans Affairs to clean up its poor record, the VA has not made substantive changes to the care of the men and women who defended this great nation when they were asked.
“Instead, the VA has instead chosen to exclude specific groups of veterans from receiving their medical benefits, directly leading to deaths caused by Agent Orange related cancers.
“And I hope that today, in this Committee we can convince the Department of Veterans Affairs that avoiding the care of those who have protected us is not how our government should treat those who have given so much to defend our nation and our fellow citizens.
“To address this unfair disparity, I have introduced S. 681, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015 with Senator Gillibrand. I want to thank Senator Gillibrand for her leadership and her excellent testimony here today.
“In 2002, the VA abruptly cut off all funding for benefits of these fully deserving Navy veterans. It’s been called ‘arbitrary’ and ‘capricious’. I urge the Committee to dig into why was this decision made and what was the base of this decision in 2002 when these benefits were abruptly cut off.
“During the Vietnam War, the United States has sprayed more than nineteen million gallons of herbicides to defoliate the dense forests of Vietnam, with Agent Orange being the most commonly used herbicide.
“Dioxin is the most harmful chemical found in Agent Orange and has been proven to cause a variety of cancers, Parkinson’s disease, coronary issues and many more deadly diseases for those that come into contact with it.
“I am disturbed that those tasked with the ultimate responsibility of taking care of our veterans would be so callous as to remove their benefits. To this day, I have not been persuaded that the VA had a legitimate reason to do so.
“Within the last year, two Montanans living in the northwest part of my state and using the Kalispell veteran Service Office applied for medical benefits. Both of these men are Blue Water Navy veterans—one of them having served on a patrol boat and the other on a destroyer.
“Both of these veterans have been diagnosed with cancers and diseases that the VA has readily admitted result from coming into contact with Agent Orange.
“Unless we pass legislation to include Blue Water Navy veterans like these two Montanans, they will be denied critically important VA care for diseases that our own military exposed them to.
“As the son of a Marine I understand the importance of keeping the promises made to our veterans. Our bill would simply reinstate medical benefits for Blue Water veterans who served on ships within the territorial waters of Vietnam.
“These Blue Water Navy veterans should have access to the best medical care, and not be ignored by the VA.
“This sort of indifference to our veterans is unacceptable, especially when combined with the constant failure by the VA to do its job.
“Our nation should not hesitate to invest in the care of these veterans and correct this wrong.
“I ask you to join us in cosponsoring this legislation and quickly pass it out of the Committee and the Senate so we can restore the medical benefits our veterans rightly deserve.”