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Congressman Joe Courtney

Representing the 2nd District of Connecticut

Congressman Courtney’s Statement Following Senate Passage of Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act

June 12, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – This evening, Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) issued the following statement after the Senate unanimously passed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 (H.R. 299) which was passed in the House on May 14.

“Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans have been denied benefits that they deserve for 17 years,” said Congressman Courtney. “They’ve been forced to endure the long-lasting effects of Agent Orange—complications like type 2 diabetes, certain forms of cancer, and Parkinson’s disease—and to do so without receiving the benefits they’ve rightfully earned while serving our country during the Vietnam War. The debt we owe to these men and women for their service and for the subsequent obstruction can never be repaid, but we owe it to Blue Water veterans and their families to ensure we do right by them moving forward.

“The House passed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act in May, and with the Senate’s passage tonight the bill will be sent to the President’s desk for signature, finally codifying protections for our Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans. I applaud the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee for choosing to take up the House’s Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which ensured that the bill could be sent immediately to the President’s desk, and I encourage the President to act swiftly to sign the bill into law.”

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, various cancers, Type II Diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease.
  • The Agent Orange Act of 1991 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 Agent Orange Act 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:

  • This bill restores the presumptive coverage for those who served offshore Vietnam and lifts the burden from the individual veteran to prove direct exposure to Agent Orange.
  • The presumption currently exists for veterans who served on land and inland waterways, and therefore the bill places Navy personnel on the same playing field as those who served in country.
  • The bill also Extends presumption of Agent Orange exposure to certain veterans who served in or near the Korean demilitarized zone.
  • The bill also provide benefits to children of Vietnam veterans who served in Thailand and were born with spina bifida.

Congressman Courtney’s Record:

  • Courtney has been a lead cosponsor of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act every session since the 112th Congress.
  • In June 2018, Courtney helped pass the bill in a broad, unanimous vote in the House -  In September 2018, Courtney and 115 other House members wrote to Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Isakson and challenged aspects of the Veterans Administration’s stated opposition to the bill. You can read a copy of the letter here.
  • In October 2018, Courtney again wrote to Chairman Isakson urging him to allow the bill to move forward in the Senate. That letter noted the significant, good faith, bipartisan effort that Members of the House made to find agreeable sources of funding for care and compensation for Blue Water Navy Veterans and ultimately led to the House’s unanimous vote of 382-0 in favor of H.R. 299 in June. You can read a copy of the letter here.
  • In December 2018, the Senate adjourned without taking action on the bill.
  • In January 2019, Congressman Courtney joined Congressman Mark Takano (CA-41) to reintroduce the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act in the 116th Congress
  • On May 14, 2019, Congressman Courtney voted to pass the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (H.R. 299) in the House of Representatives.

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