**WATCH Senator Gillibrand’s Testimony HERE**
Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today testified before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and urged her colleagues to pass the bipartisan 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. Companion legislation in the House of Representatives passed 382-0 on June 25th. Gillibrand’s bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act is also sponsored by Steve Daines (R-MT).
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.
Below is Senator Gillibrand’s testimony as delivered:
Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman and Mr. Ranking Member. I’m very grateful for your leadership.
I’m so grateful for this hearing – we really want to support our Blue Water Navy Veterans – and for your commitment to finally passing this long, overdue bill.
It’s my sincere hope that now that we have an offset that’s been identified and passed in the House, 382 to zero, that we may also quickly pass this bill and send it to President Trump as expeditiously as possible.
As you know, during the Vietnam War, thousands of patriotic Americans were exposed to the chemical Agent Orange, which we now know is highly toxic.
Some of our veterans were exposed to Agent Orange on the ground, some patrolling rivers, some while stationed on ships off the Vietnamese coast. These are called the Blue Water Navy vets.
Now, all these years later, Agent Orange has made many of them very sick, many of them severely ill, and many of them have already died because of Agent Orange.
But the VA is only helping some of the veterans exposed to this dangerous chemical. They’re helping the Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange on land or on rivers, but excluding those who served on the Blue Water.
It doesn’t make any sense. It’s arbitrary. It’s a bureaucratic rule that’s preventing veterans who served in Vietnam from getting the treatment they desperately need.
In Congress, we have been fighting for this legislation for nearly a decade so that the VA could just deliver the benefits that these men and women have already earned.
With today’s markup, we are finally there.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of both members of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees, we have a bipartisan bill and we have a bipartisan pay-for.
Now, I want to address the pay-for, because that’s important to a lot of our colleagues. The offset is nearly $1 billion to care for our Blue Water Navy veterans, their families, and for some of their survivors.
The way we pay for it is from the VA Home Loan program, because it provides a home loan guarantee benefit to help service members, veterans, and surviving spouses who become homeowners.
Private lenders provide VA home loans, but the VA guarantees a portion of that loan, enabling veterans to receive more favorable terms.
Now these loans are different from those that are offered to non-veteran, civilian populations. Instead of paying annual fees or interest on a loan, the veteran only pays a one-time, up-front loan fee.
Currently, that fee is 0.25 percent lower if you are active duty versus National Guard or Reserve. All this bill does is equalize that number at 2.4 percent. It pays for the entire bill. It passed unanimously in the House of Representatives.
So I hope that our Senate colleagues can look at this pay-for favorably, and allow this bill to be fully paid for to help our veterans.
Now, our Blue Water Navy veterans have waited a very long time for basic health care and basic benefits they have already earned. They’ve suffered consequences to their health, to their families, to their lives. I think this is an injustice that we can and must rectify, and I think we can do it in this Congress.
So I ask all of you to please consider this bill, since it has had such a bipartisan, favorable response in both the House and Senate. I think the time is now to actually pass it.
I’d now like to yield the remainder of my time to my colleague Senator Daines.