Warner, Kaine Co-Sponsor Legislation To Help Thousands Of “Blue Water” Vietnam Veterans Harmed By Agent Orange
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to ensure thousands of Navy veterans from the Vietnam War, known as "Blue Water" veterans for their service in waters off the coast, 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. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would clarify existing law so that Blue Water veterans would be fully covered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) if they served within the “territorial seas,” or approximately 12 miles offshore, of Vietnam. The bill would make it easier for the VA to process Vietnam War veterans’ claims for service-connected conditions and alleviate a portion of the VA’s backlog by reinstating presumptive coverage of Agent Orange benefits to these veterans.
“I’ve heard from too many Virginia veterans who are suffering from illnesses that have been linked to Agent Orange, yet are unable to access health benefits or disability compensation simply because of where they served,” said Warner. “Regardless of whether they served on land or at sea, those who have fallen victim to Agent Orange exposure deserve access to the same benefits and compensation. We owe our heroes no less.”
“Unfortunately, servicemembers in Vietnam who were located in the territorial waters are not currently included in important VA coverage,” said Kaine.” I have heard from many Virginians and veterans service organizations on this important issue, and I am happy to join my Senate colleagues, as well as other members of the Virginia delegation, in supporting the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act to restore coverage to all of our servicemembers who were exposed to Agent Orange during Vietnam. I hope the Senate can work together to find an acceptable pay-for to ensure this legislation is passed quickly.”
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 for millions serving in Vietnam. Agent Orange is linked to Parkinson’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and a range of other diseases, including several blood and respiratory cancers, type II diabetes, and prostate cancer.
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 affects thousands of sailors who may have still received Agent Orange exposure from receiving VA benefits. In Virginia alone, there are more than 3,800 Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans.