Courtney-Backed Blue Water Bill Passes House
WASHINGTON – Today, Representative Joe Courtney (CT-02) hailed the House passage of the bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (H.R. 299). Courtney is a co-lead on the measure, along with Republican Congressman David G. Valadao (CA-21), which expands benefits for Vietnam blue water navy veterans who are currently suffering from diseases they developed as a result of their service. Specifically, the bill enables veterans who served in the territorial seas of Vietnam during the Vietnam War to receive expedited consideration for Veteran’s Affairs (VA) benefits if they suffer from any of the diseases the U.S. Government has linked to Agent Orange.
“This is a good day for the House and, more importantly, for our veterans,” said Courtney. “Blue water veterans have waited decades for action and fairness from the VA and from Congress. I am proud to have worked on a bipartisan basis to finally get this this important and long-overdue legislation passed in the House. I hope that the Senate will follow our lead and pass this bipartisan bill without delay so that our Blue Water veterans can finally receive the recognition and care they deserve.”
"Every day veterans call my office asking when this law will be corrected and I grateful to tell them we are one massive step closer to ensuring they receive the medical treatment they deserve,” said Valadao. "I look forward to working with the Senate so that our veterans, who have given our nation so much, receive the healthcare they have earned."
The bill, which has 330 bipartisan cosponsors in the House, passed the chamber this evening by a vote of 382-0. It must next be considered by the Senate. H.R. 299 is endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW), the Association of the United States Navy (AUSN), Military-Veterans Advocacy, Inc., the Fleet Reserve Association, the Blue Water Navy Association, and the Vietnam Veterans Association.
- 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.
- 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.