Courtney Statement Following President Trump’s Signing of House-Passed Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) issued the following statement after today’s announcement that the House-passed Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (H.R. 299) was signed into law late last night by President Trump:
“The battle is over, and our Blue Water veterans won,” said Congressman Courtney. “For the men and women who have fought tooth and nail for well over a decade to secure our Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans the care they rightfully deserve, last night’s bill signing is a monumental victory, and a burden finally relieved for so many veterans and their families. I am proud to have worked with Connecticut Vietnam veterans like Gerry Wright—who has personally travelled the country to raise support for veterans suffering from complications related to Agent Orange exposure—and with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle throughout our years-long effort of seeing this legislation across the finish line.
“The debt we owe to these men and women for their service, and for the subsequent obstruction to their care, can never be repaid, but the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act will help ensure that we do right by them moving forward. I am honored to have been part of the effort to right this wrong, and to once and for all codify protections for these veterans so that their care will never again come into question.”
- 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.
- 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.
- The bill also extends presumption of Agent Orange exposure to certain veterans who served in or near the Korean demilitarized zone.
- The bill also provides benefits to children of Vietnam veterans who served in Thailand and were born with spina bifida.
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 which had 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.
- On May 14, 2019, Congressman Courtney voted to pass the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (H.R. 299) in the House of Representatives.
- On June 12, 2019, Congressman Courtney applauded the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee for taking up and passing the House’s version of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which ensured that the bill could be sent immediately to the President’s desk upon passage in the Senate.