March 09, 2015

Gillibrand, Daines To Help Thousands Of "Blue Water" Vietnam Vets Harmed By Agent Orange, But Ignored By Feds Due To Technicality In The Law

Current Law Requires VA To Provide Benefits For Service Members Exposed To Agent Orange On Dry Ground, But Ignores Vets Off Shore

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Steve Daines (R-MT) introduced legislation to ensure thousands of Navy veterans known as "Blue Water" vets from the Vietnam War 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 for millions serving in Vietnam. In 1991, Congress passed a law requiring 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 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 significant Agent Orange exposure from receiving VA benefits.

“Hundreds of Thousands of our veterans are being denied benefits they need and deserve because of a technicality in the law,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, “We owe it to the veterans who bravely served our country and have fallen victim to Agent Orange-related disease to enact this legislation that will provide the disability compensation and healthcare benefits they have earned. Agent Orange is a very difficult chapter in our nation’s history and is past due that we correct the errors of the past.”

“Our veterans don’t deserve sub-par care. It is unacceptable that a technicality in the law and dysfunctional federal bureaucracy has resulted in the prolonged suffering of thousands of our nation’s heroes,” Daines stated. “This legislation will ensure that victims of Agent Orange-related disease receive the care and compensation they have long deserved. I will fight every day for our veterans, just as they have fought for us.”

A May 2011 report by the Institute of Medicine established several “plausible routes” for Agent Orange exposure through the water distillation process aboard Navy ships and through the air. In 2010, a study by the Institute of Medicine cited exposure to Agent Orange resulted in an increased chance of developing serious heart problems and Parkinson’s disease. A 1990 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed Vietnam veterans had a rate of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma 50 percent higher than the general population. Agent Orange is linked to a range of other diseases, including several blood and respiratory cancers, type II diabetes, prostate cancer and more.

In 2005, the VA’s former Director of Environmental Agents Service Dr. Mark Brown publicly acknowledged that there was no scientific basis for the exclusion of Blue Water Vietnam veterans, but the VA has continued to refuse these veterans presumptive benefits Congress initially intended. In his article in the Journal of Law and Policy, Dr. Brown wrote, “Science does not back up the VA’s policy on the Navy.”

Senators Gillibrand and Daines introduced the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015, which would clarify existing law so that Blue Water veterans would be fully covered by the VA if they served within the “territorial seas,” or approximately 12 miles offshore of Vietnam. The bill would make it easier for VA to process Vietnam War veterans’ claims for service-connected conditions and alleviate a portion of the VA’s backlog by extending presumptive coverage of Agent Orange benefits to these veterans.