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Congressman Joe Courtney

Representing the 2nd District of Connecticut

Courtney-Backed Blue Water Vietnam Veterans Bill Passes Key House Committee

May 1, 2018
Press Release

(Washington, DC) —Today, Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) announced that the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs passed the bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act that he co-leads with Republican Congressman David G. Valadao (CA-21). H.R. 299; 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. 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.

“It is hard to overstate how important this legislation is for the Navy veterans who are suffering from Agent Orange exposure without any medical coverage from the VA,” said Courtney. “Like many veterans in my district who regularly share their concerns about this issue with me, I am deeply disappointed in the VA’s continued refusal to act. I am pleased that the Veterans Affairs Committee has taken the first step toward righting that wrong by passing our bipartisan legislation in committee. I am encouraged by this action and hope that leadership in the House will move quickly to pass this bill.”

“Ensuring our veterans have access to proper medical care is a small, yet important, symbol of gratitude for their service, especially when their medical conditions are a result of active service,” said Valadao. “This bipartisan legislation corrects the law so that every veteran gets the medical treatment they deserve. I’m grateful to Chairman Phil Roe and my colleagues on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs for bringing this bill to markup so it may advance to the House Floor for consideration.”
H.R. 299 has 329 cosponsors, 154 Republicans, and 175 Democrats. It has been endorsed by 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.  

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:

  • 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. The legislation would also reduce 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.

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