Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), alongside U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), Steve Daines (R-MT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), today called on the Senate to pass the bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, legislation Gillibrand has championed that would ensure that thousands of Navy veterans, and their families, exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War are able to receive the death and health care benefits they earned. This legislation already passed the House with unanimous support. The Senate only has a few days to pass this bill before the end of this legislative session.
“It is unacceptable that for the past sixteen years, the VA has denied health benefits to our Blue Water Navy vets just because of an arbitrary rule blocking veterans who served on boats off Vietnam’s coast from the benefits they have earned and deserve. It’s outrageous that a couple of Senators are now blocking these benefits too by refusing to pass the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The current policy for Blue Water Navy veterans is preventing thousands of veterans from getting the support and treatment they desperately need for their exposure to Agent Orange. Our veterans are heroes and deserve nothing less than the very best care and treatment available, and our Blue Water Navy vets should not wait another second to get the benefits they have already earned. The House has already passed this legislation with no objection, and the Senate must act immediately to pass this bill and send it to the President’s desk to be signed into law.”
“If we aren’t willing to take care of our veterans when they come home, we should not send them in to harm’s way,” said Senator Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “We made a promise to those veterans and we must pass our bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act to live up to it. I won’t stop fighting for the veterans who are counting on this bill to pass before the end of the year.”
“The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act is about fairness, about justice and about congressional intent,” Senator Daines said. “The intent of congress was to ensure that those who served in Vietnam and were exposed to agent orange are getting the care they need and deserve. It’s time to make this wrong, right. We need to take away the muddy water of the VA and pass the bipartisan Blue Water bill to protect our veterans. I urge my colleagues to support this and get it done before the year end.”
“Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans deserve simple justice. There is no reason to delay our bipartisan legislation to remove the excessive obstacles these veterans face when accessing the health care and other benefits they earned. This measure is not a gift or charity. It is what we owe these veterans,” Senator Blumenthal said.
“If you were exposed to poison while serving our country, you deserve the benefits you earned, period. No exceptions,” Senator Brown said.
Gillibrand has long championed 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 Veteran’s Act, which she first introduced in 2009. Gillibrand’s bill is also sponsored by U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) and co-sponsored by 51 additional senators. Gillibrand’s Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act passed the House by a vote of 382-0 earlier this year in June, and in August, Gillibrand testified before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs to urge her colleagues to also pass the bill.
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 has prevented thousands of sailors from receiving benefits even though they had significant Agent Orange exposure from drinking and bathing in contaminated water just offshore.