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Congressman Joe Courtney

Representing the 2nd District of Connecticut

Congressman Courtney Votes to Pass the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act

May 14, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) voted in favor of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (H.R. 299), a bill that would expand benefits for Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans who are currently suffering from diseases they acquired because of their service in proximity to the destructive chemical known as Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Specifically, the bill enables affected veterans to receive expedited consideration for Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits if they suffer from diseases known to be linked to Agent Orange. Courtney is an original co-sponsor of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which passed the House by a unanimous vote of 410-0.

“For 17 years, Blue Water Navy veterans have been forced to endure an insult on top of the injuries they sustained due to exposure to Agent Orange,” said Congressman Courtney. “Despite being stationed on Navy ships offshore and never having ‘boots-on-the-ground’ during the Vietnam War, these men and women were still exposed Agent Orange as it made its way onboard ships through seawater polluted with chemical runoff. Just like the veterans who did serve on land and were exposed to Agent Orange, Blue Water Navy veterans suffer the long-lasting effects linked to Agent Orange exposure, including type 2 diabetes, certain forms of cancer, and Parkinson’s disease. The ‘boots-on-the-ground’ rule was an arbitrary, unfair obstruction to care for these veterans, and it was never the intent of Congress. I applauded a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in January which overturned the rule, but insisted that Congress must codify these protections in order for them to truly remain permanent and to never again come into question. 

“Passage of our bill today reinforces the January ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals, and is a major milestone towards codifying once and for all the benefits we owe to Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans. The House has passed this bill once before, in the previous 115th Congress. The Senate’s failure to concurrently pass the bill at that time was one of the most disappointing aspects of the last session of Congress. Today, I’m encouraged by the overwhelming bipartisan support our bill received upon passage here in the House of Representatives, and I again call on the Senate to follow our lead, and to pass this bill without delay so that our Blue Water Navy veterans can finally be assured the care and recognition they deserve.”

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.

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

 

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