Courtney-Backed Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Bill Introduced in 116th Congress
Washington, DC – Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) today joined House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-CA) in introducing the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 (HR 299). Congressman Courtney, Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces in the 115th Congress, is an original cosponsor of the legislation and has been a leader in its advancement in previous Congresses.
“The Senate’s failure to pass this bill last year and finally right this wrong for our Vietnam-era veterans was one of the most disappointing aspects of the last session of Congress,” Courtney said. “While the House acted in a bipartisan and unanimous way to pass the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act in 2018, the objections of a small number of Senators blocked action that would have made this bill law. That this bill is being introduced in the first days of the 116th Congress demonstrates our ongoing commitment to ensure that we do right by all our veterans exposed to agent orange, whether on land or on the sea.”
The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act expands benefits for Vietnam blue water navy veterans who are currently suffering from diseases they acquired because of their service in proximity to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Specifically, the bill enables effected veterans to receive expedited consideration for Veteran’s Affairs (VA) benefits if they suffer from diseases known to the U.S. Government to be linked to Agent Orange.
- 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.
- This bill 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.
- 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 - https://courtney.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/courtney-backed-blue-water-bill-passes-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.