Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today released the following statement regarding this week’s ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturning a sixteen year old VA policy that denied benefits to thousands of Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War:
“It is long overdue for the federal government to recognize the sacrifices of our Blue Water Navy veterans and meet its sacred obligation to these veterans. The VA must honor this ruling immediately and I will continue to push for a permanent bipartisan legislative solution to fulfill our commitment to Blue Water vets.”
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. Last Congress, Gillibrand’s bill was also sponsored by U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) and had the support of 51 additional Senators. Gillibrand’s Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act passed the House by a vote of 382-0 last year in June, and in August 2018, 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 prevented thousands of sailors from receiving benefits even though they had significant Agent Orange exposure from drinking and bathing in contaminated water just offshore.