**WATCH Senator Gillibrand’s Testimony Before The Veterans’ Affairs Committee**
Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today testified before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on behalf of hundreds of thousands “Blue Water” veterans from the Vietnam War who were exposed to the dangerous toxin Agent Orange but are currently ineligible to receive health and disability benefits.
Here is her testimony as prepared for today’s hearing:
“Mr. Chairman, Thank you for holding this hearing today on S.681, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veteran Act of 2015.
“This legislation would ensure that thousands of brave veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War receive VA care for illnesses related to their Agent Orange exposure.
“Agent Orange was dangerous. It was toxic. It was poisonous. It filled the air and poisoned the water and severely damaged the health of the people who were exposed to it.
“The US government has recognized the harmful effects of Agent Orange since the late 1960s.
“And the VA actively provides care and coverage to many soldiers who were exposed to Agent Orange.
“The problem we face today, is that under current VA rules, the only US veterans who are counted as having been exposed to this deadly chemical…are the people who actually walked on the ground, on Vietnamese soil, and the people who served on boats on Vietnam’s rivers.
“But the current VA rules exclude the thousands of Navy veterans who were stationed on ships just off the Vietnamese coastline.
“This doesn’t make any sense and isn’t fair to these men and women.
“Agent Orange did not discriminate between those who stood on boats on rivers, and those who stood on boats off-shore.
“So why should the VA discriminate between the two?
“Because of this arbitrary and bureaucratic rule, thousands of our Navy veterans are suffering. It is time to right this wrong. Let’s cut the red tape that’s causing additional suffering.
“Bobby Condon is one of these veterans. He’s from Brooklyn, he joined the Navy when he was a teenager, and he went to Vietnam at age 18, because he wanted to serve his country.
“Like countless others, Bobby was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam. He served on the USS Intrepid, which is now a world class museum on the Hudson River in New York City.
“Bobby moved propeller planes and bomber jets on the Intrepid’s flight deck. These were planes that had dropped Agent Orange, and after their missions were done, still contained its residue.
“And it was Bobby’s job to handle these planes. Bobby was a serial nail-biter, and he believes Agent Orange toxins seeped into his body when he bit his nails.
“Bobby is in his late 60s now, and he suffers from leukemia – a disease linked to Agent Orange exposure. He’s been dealing with it for almost 20 years.
“So what do you think the Department of Veteran Affairs did when Bobby first went to them for coverage?
“They said “Sorry, your boat was here – not here – so we can’t help you. Sorry, you didn’t have boots on the ground.”
“All those Blue Water Navy veterans like Bobby – we’re letting them down.
“Bobby said it best. He said, “All I wanted is what I deserve.”
“We have an obligation to give back to the brave men and women who risked their lives for us.
“Because each day that we delay passage of this bill, Vietnam veterans continue to become ill and go into bankruptcy from trying to pay their medical bills, because they are unable to receive coverage from the VA.
“Mr. Chairman: Because of the urgency of this issue, I request that your committee mark up this legislation, and expeditiously report it favorably to the floor for consideration by the full Senate.