U.S. SENATE —U.S. Senators Steve Daines (R-MT) and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and today reintroduced the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, legislation to ensure that thousands of Navy veterans, known as “Blue Water” veterans, are able to receive the disability and health care benefits they earned after exposure to Agent Orange while fighting in the Vietnam War.
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 Department of Veterans Affairs (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 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.
“Blue Water veterans are true heroes to our nation who have not been given the care and treatment they deserve,” Senator Daines stated. “I’ve been working with my colleagues across the aisle to gain care for veterans exposed to toxic substances and we will never stop pushing this fight. This issue is not about politics. It’s about doing what’s right.”
“Thousands of Vietnam War veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange are now suffering from severe health problems, yet the VA is continuing to deny health coverage to many of them because of an arbitrary rule that says veterans who served on boats off of Vietnam’s coast are not entitled to this coverage,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would correct this problem for our Blue Water veterans, and would require the VA to treat all Vietnam veterans who came into contact with Agent Orange, regardless of where it happened. This bipartisan legislation is long overdue, and I will do everything I can to give our Blue Water veterans the treatment they deserve and desperately need.”
John Rowan, National President and CEO of Vietnam Veterans of America: “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.”
Thomas J. Snee, National Executive Director of the Fleet Reserve Association: “The Fleet Reserve Association (FRA) once again, thanks to Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Steve Daines for re-introducing the “Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act” in the Senate in support of the sailors, marines and coast guardsmen who served off the territorial waters of the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam Conflict. This bill and the companion in the House must past before they are not recognized from a very “unpopular war” that they served with honor. Congress must pass these bills, and the VA must take aggressive actions to ensure benefit payments and treatment are provided, while there is time left. We thank the Senator’s continued support for these Veterans and their Caregivers, and look forward to a strong push to its passage.”
Raymond Kelley, Director of VFW National Legislative Service: “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.”
Daines and Gillibrand have been pushing for the passage of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act alongside a bipartisan coalition in the U.S. House of Representatives. This legislation would clarify the existing law so that Blue Water veterans would be covered by the VA if they served within “territorial seas,” or approximately 12 miles offshore of Vietnam. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would make it easier for the VA to process Vietnam War veterans’ claims for service-connected health conditions and alleviate a portion of the VA’s backlog by extending presumptive coverage of Agent Orange benefits to these veterans.
This legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Edward Markey (D-MA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Mark Warner (D-VA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Rob Portman (R-OH), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK).