Utica, NY – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Richard Hanna today announced a new push to pass bipartisan 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. Gillibrand is rallying support for the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015, legislation that 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. Gillibrand introduced the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015 with Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) on March 15, 2015. Representative Hanna is an original cosponsor of the House companion legislation.
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.
“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.”
“All of our veterans who were exposed to the powerful toxin Agent Orange deserve treatment and care for the debilitating effects that are linked to it,” said Rep. Richard Hanna. “We cannot deny our sailors treatment due a technicality in the law. That’s why together with Senator Gillibrand I am working to see this change takes effect as soon as possible so we can give our Vietnam veterans the compensation and care they not only deserve but have earned through fighting for this nation during times of war.”
“We are fighting for our Vietnam veterans, especially the Navy sailors who were sickened by exposure to Agent Orange aboard their ships but never compensated appropriately,” said Rep. Chris Gibson. “I was proud to introduce the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act in the House, where a bipartisan group of more than 230 Members of Congress have signed on as cosponsors. I am delighted this bill is making progress in the Senate with the support of Senator Gillibrand. As a veteran myself, I appreciate her advocacy on this front. I also want to express my gratitude to Carol Olszanecki of Ellenville for her continued hard work on behalf of our Blue Water Navy veterans and families.”
“There are 21.8 million veterans in the U.S. (veterans compose about 7% of the U.S. population) and about 4 million of those veterans have a service-related disability (disabled veterans compose just over 1% of the U.S. population),” said Christopher Urban, Commander of American Legion Utica Post 229. It should be a national priority to do everything possible to take care of the small number of men and women who have health issues as a result of defending this great nation. This bipartisan bill is an example of how our lawmakers should work.”
“On behalf of all my Blue Water brothers I wish to thank Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Hanna as well as their colleges in Congress for championing the cause of “Blue Water Veterans,” said Dave Manore, Blue Water Navy Veteran. “During the Vietnam War powerful toxins (Agent Orange) were used. Because absolute control of these toxins was impossible it entered the waters in and around Vietnam and thus moved at the will of the sea. Ships which were stationed in the waters near Vietnam took in sea water from the sea, processed it and made it potable. This became the crews drinking water, shower water, cooking water, etc. Thus exposing them to any toxin within the water. Currently I suffer from type II diabetes and it is a struggle each and every day; testing multiple times and 5 shots of insulin daily. I have been denied coverage from the VA because I am not “Boots on the Ground”, but a “Blue Water Vet”. I also know that greater than 80% of the men who served aboard the Arlington suffer from 1 or more of the VA listed “Agent Orange” maladies. While it is nice to draw a line on a map to determine who has and who has not been exposed to “Agent Orange”, that information was not passed on to mother nature.”
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.”