Senators’ Call Follows VA Officials’ Refusal to Reverse Ruling to Extend VA Benefits to “Blue Water” Vets
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senators Steve Daines (R-MT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) today called on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to immediately take up their legislation to ensure “Blue Water” Navy veterans are made eligible for service-connected disability Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits and health care as a result of Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War.
Daines’ and Gillibrand’s call follows a request urging the VA to reverse a 2002 rule excluding “Blue Water” veterans from the VA benefits to which they should be entitled. On February 5, Daines and Gillibrand received a letter from VA Secretary Bob McDonald refusing to reverse the VA rule, which 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.
“Our veterans deserve the best care our country can give them and the VA is failing them in their most basic responsibility,” Daines stated. “It is far past time for our ‘Blue Water’ vets to get the benefits they deserve and I’m calling on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to fix this bureaucratic nightmare. We owe it to them and must prioritize their long-overdue benefits, and do what the VA hasn’t, live up to the promises our government made to them.”
“This decision by the VA is disappointing, and it continues their discriminatory policy against thousands of Navy veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War,” said Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the author of the Blue Water Veterans bill. “We need to make sure that all of our veterans are getting the care they earned and now need – not just a select few who happened to serve in one arbitrary place over another. The VA’s refusal to change its Agent Orange policy is a clear sign that Congress must quickly come together to pass the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act.”
Daines and Gillibrand recently introduced legislation to ensure thousands of Vietnam-era Navy veterans, known as “Blue Water” vets, who were exposed to the powerful toxin Agent Orange will be eligible to receive disability and health care benefits they have earned for diseases linked to Agent Orange exposure.
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 effects on millions serving in Vietnam. In 1991, Congress passed a law requiring the VA 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 VA determined 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 who may have still experienced significant Agent Orange exposure from receiving VA benefits.