(U.S. Senate) – Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines are working to deliver on the promises they’ve made to “Blue Water Navy” veterans by restoring their eligibility for service-connected disability benefits and health care as a result of Agent Orange exposure. “Blue Water Navy” veterans served in the waters offshore during the Vietnam War.
In a letter to VA Secretary Bob McDonald, Tester and Daines urged the VA to reverse a 2002 rule that excluded “Blue Water Navy” veterans from the VA benefits and care to which they should be entitled. The 2002 rule extended coverage only to Vietnam veterans who served on the ground or inland waters in Vietnam, thereby denying Blue Water Navy veterans’ access to care and benefits despite their exposure to various toxins during their service.
“This change in policy effectively placed the burden of proof on the Blue Water Navy veterans despite their having suffered from the same cancers and illnesses as their fellow service members,” Tester and Daines wrote. “We ask that you reconsider this policy and apply the presumption to all who served in the territorial waters of the Republic of Vietnam.”
Tester and Daines are also sponsoring the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act which would force the VA to reverse its decision to exclude Blue Water Navy veterans from VA care and benefits. In September, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee heard testimony on the bill, including testimony from medical professionals who identified several scientifically proven ways in which Blue Water Navy veterans were exposed to Agent Orange off the coasts of Vietnam.
Last year the Veterans Claims Court of Appeals ruled in Gray v. McDonald that the VA must redefine “inland waterways” to better exercise fair judgement in a consistent manner for veterans of the Vietnam War. A new definition that includes all inland waterways could provide coverage for critical medical benefits to up to 90 percent of these Blue Water Navy veterans.
Recently the VA extended access to benefits and care for former reservists who had contact with contaminated C-123 aircrafts that were used to disburse herbicides in Vietnam.
In 2011 Tester co-sponsored S.1629, the Agent Orange Equity Act. While serving in the House, Daines co-sponsored H.R. 543, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2013.
Tester and Daines’ letter to Secretary McDonald is available HERE.