Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Steve Daines (R-MT) today announced the Senate has unanimously passed legislation they have championed, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which would ensure Blue Water Navy Veterans have access to the benefits and care they have earned and deserve.
“I have been proud to lead the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act for years and am thrilled that the Senate has finally passed this bipartisan bill to ensure Blue Water Navy vets are guaranteed the benefits they have earned and deserve,” said Senator Gillibrand. “For years the federal government has failed to meet its sacred obligation to our Blue Water Navy veterans. Congress has a responsibility to ensure that all sailors exposed to Agent Orange while serving off the Vietnamese coast during the war are covered, and last night’s unanimous voice vote is a major victory for thousands of veterans who have waited far too long for VA benefits. I am thankful to Senator Daines for working alongside me to pass this bill, and I urge President Trump to sign this bill into law as soon as possible.
“Our Vietnam vets who served both on land and sea deserve equal care for their bravery in defense of our country,” said Senator Daines. “I am happy to see my legislation pass. It is due time we get our Blue Water Vets the care they earned.”
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 prevented thousands of sailors from receiving benefits even though they had significant Agent Orange exposure from drinking and bathing in contaminated water just offshore.
Earlier this year, 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.
Gillibrand and Daines reintroduced the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act earlier this year. Gillibrand has 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 Veterans Act, which she first introduced in 2009. Last Congress, Gillibrand and Daines’s bill had the support of 51 additional Senators. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act passed the House by a vote of 410-0 in May 2019.