May 16, 2019

Warner And Kaine Urge Senate To Pass Bipartisan Legislation Protecting Vietnam Veterans Exposed To Agent Orange

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Steve Daines (R-MT) to call on their Senate colleagues to pass the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, a bipartisan bill to ensure that the tens of thousands of veterans who were stationed off the coast of Vietnam — known as Blue Water Navy veterans — can receive the disability and health care benefits they earned after their exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. This bill would also extend these benefits to servicemembers who were exposed to herbicides while serving in the Korean Demilitarized Zone and to the children of servicemembers stationed in Thailand who were born with spina bifida. Medical research suggests a link between a veteran’s exposure to herbicides in Vietnam and the occurrence of spina bifida in their children. The House passed this legislation earlier this week.

“Every veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange while serving our country deserves the same access to care. This legislation will finally afford the tens of thousands of veterans exposed during offshore duty the same benefits and treatment as their counterparts on the ground,” the Senators said.

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 all Vietnam veterans with illnesses that the Institute of Medicine has directly linked to Agent Orange exposure, including those who were stationed on ships off the Vietnamese coast, also known as Blue Water Navy veterans. 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 prevented tens of thousands of sailors from receiving benefits even though they had significant Agent Orange exposure from drinking and bathing in contaminated water just offshore.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled earlier this year in favor of a Blue Water Navy veteran in his lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Although it appears that the VA will not appeal this decision and will begin providing benefits to most Blue Water Navy veterans, passing the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would codify into law protection for these veterans. The bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would clarify the existing law so that Blue Water Navy veterans would be granted VA coverage equitable to those who are already covered.

Warner and Kaine are both cosponsors of the bill.