Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) today announced President Trump has signed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act into law. Gillibrand has championed this bipartisan legislation for nearly a decade, which will ensure Blue Water Navy Veterans have access to the benefits and care they have earned and deserve.
“Today is a huge victory for thousands of veterans who served our country in the Vietnam War and have been waiting for the VA health care and benefits they need. I have been proud and honored to lead the bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act for years, and I am thrilled that these urgently needed protections for our Blue Water veterans have finally been signed into law,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Every single sailor exposed to toxic Agent Orange while serving off the Vietnamese coast during the war should be covered, and now they can finally have the peace of mind that they will be.”
Gillibrand and Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) reintroduced the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act earlier this year. Gillibrand worked alongside the Blue Water Navy Veterans Association to champion the fight to ensure Blue Water veterans get the health and disability benefits they earned. She led the Senate version of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which she first introduced in 2009. Gillibrand and Daines’s bill had the support of 56 additional Senators. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act passed the House by a vote of 410-0 in May 2019 and by a voice vote in the Senate on June 12, 2019.
The U.S. military sprayed approximately 20 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam during the Vietnam War to remove jungle foliage. This toxic chemical had devastating health effects on millions serving in Vietnam. Congress passed a law in 1991 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. The VA’s exclusion prevented thousands of sailors from receiving benefits even though they had significant Agent Orange exposure from drinking and bathing in contaminated water just offshore.
Thanks to the hard work of Military Veterans Advocacy, in January 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned a sixteen year old VA policy that denied benefits to thousands of Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. However, Congressional action was still needed to guarantee all Blue Water veterans would receive care. The bill will also ensure that those exposed while serving in Korea and the children of those service members exposed in Thailand who were born with spina bifida can also receive benefits.