Courtney Receives Response from Navy Secretary on Effort to Support Blue Water Submarine Veterans Seeking Care Through The VA
Today, Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02), Chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, made public a letter he received from Secretary of the Navy Kenneth J. Braithwaite providing additional information on the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 (PL116-23) and the Navy’s plan to ensure submariner veterans are entitled to these benefits.
Secretary Braithwaite’s letter to Courtney can be viewed here.
In December 2019, Courtney led a bipartisan coalition of 45 Members of Congress to then-Acting Secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly, encouraging the Navy to provide maximum possible support to the Veteran’s Administration as the VA works to confirm the eligibility of Vietnam veterans who served aboard submarines for benefits under the Blue Water Vietnam Veterans Act, which went into effect on January 1, 2020. The VA relies on information and records from the Navy to confirm which vessels served in the waters in and around Vietnam during the time period prescribed in the law. Rep. Courtney was joined by 45 of his colleagues in sending the letter, which can be viewed here.
“I was proud to see Congress at last take action on this critical issue related to the exposure of our Blue Water veterans to chemicals commonly known as Agent Orange when the House passed H.R. 299 in May of last year, with the Senate following shortly thereafter,” said Congressman Courtney. “It’s been six months since the effective date of this legislation, and while a clear timeline for submariners is encouraging, I will continue to hold the VA accountable to ensuring they are working to establish Blue Water Navy eligibility as quickly as possible for those who face additional hurdles in using the ship locator tool, such as classified decklogs. While the Secretary’s letter mentions a longer than average response time for submariners, I hope to see the verification process become more efficient to ensure these veterans are not unfairly punished for carrying out classified missions while serving in Vietnam.”
Under the Blue Water Vietnam Veterans Act, veterans are able to utilize a ship locator tool to confirm which vessels served in the waters in and around Vietnam during the time period prescribed in the law. This means that our Navy veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War now have an established and coordinated process in place to seek claims through the VA under this law. However, due to the unique nature of classified submarine operations and additional referrals within the Navy and Naval History and Heritage Command, submariner veterans will encounter wait times slightly longer than their non-submariner counterparts.
Courtney has been a lead cosponsor of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act every session since the 112th Congress.
Rep. Courtney has also created a resource page for veterans who may qualify for benefits under the new law which provides guidance on how to apply or reapply, as necessary. You can view the page online here.