Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act passes House of Representatives

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Washington, D.C. – Last night, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, legislation that Congresswoman Stefanik cosponsored and has worked on since her first term, passed the House of Representatives unanimously. This bill expands benefits for Vietnam Blue Water Navy veterans who are currently suffering from diseases they developed as a result of their service.

“Blue Water Navy veterans should not be forced to sift through the frustrating bureaucracy at the VA just to get the health benefits they need and deserve due to their courageous service to our nation,” said Congresswoman Stefanik. “I applaud the House for coming together to support this bipartisan and critical legislation, which will provide meaningful change for veterans across the country, many of which live in the North Country. I urge the Senate to follow our lead and swiftly send this bill to the President’s desk.”

Background:

  • During the Vietnam War, more than 20 million gallons of the herbicide “Agent Orange” were sprayed to remove jungle foliage. A toxic chemical in the herbicide has since been linked to devastating health effects, including non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL), various cancers, Type II Diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease.
  • The Agent Orange Act of 1991 (AOA) empowered the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to declare certain illnesses “presumptive” to exposure to Agent Orange and enabled veterans to receive disability compensation for these related conditions.
  • However, in 2002, the VA stopped giving benefits to blue water veterans and limited the scope of the AOA to only those veterans who could provide proof of “boots on the ground” in Vietnam. As a result, veterans who served in the waters off of the Vietnamese coast or in bays and harbors were required to file individual claims to restore their benefits, which have then been decided on a case-by-case basis.

Key Provisions:

  • Restores the presumptive coverage for those who served in the territorial seas of Vietnam that existed prior to 2002 and lifts the burden from the individual veteran to prove direct exposure to Agent Orange.
  • Reduces backlogged VA claims for veterans who are suffering from diseases the U.S. government has linked to Agent Orange, therefore reducing the overall VA backlog.
  • Extends a presumption of Agent Orange exposure for veterans who served in or near the Korean Demilitarized Zone from Sept. 1, 1967, through Aug. 31, 1971.
  • Authorizes the VA to provide health care, vocational training, and a monetary allowance to veterans’ children born with spina bifida, if the veterans served in Thailand from Jan. 9, 1962, through May 7, 1975, and were exposed to Agent Orange.
  • Requires the VA to report to Congress within 180 days of enactment on the latest findings of a follow-up study on symptoms affecting Gulf War veterans.

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