U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin
Press Release

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Cosponsors Bipartisan Legislation to Help “Blue Water” Navy Veterans

Bipartisan reform would require VA to provide benefits to veterans exposed to Agent Orange

By - Feb 22nd, 2017 02:11 pm

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin joined Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) in reintroducing bipartisan legislation to ensure that thousands of Navy veterans from the Vietnam War – known as “Blue Water” veterans for their service in waters off the coast – are eligible to receive disability and health care benefits they have earned for diseases linked to Agent Orange exposure.

The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would clarify the existing law so that Blue Water veterans, who are currently excluded from receiving these benefits, are covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) if they served within “territorial seas,” or approximately 12 miles offshore of Vietnam. The legislation would also make it easier for the VA to process these veterans’ claims for service-connected health conditions and alleviate a portion of the VA’s backlog by extending presumptive coverage of Agent Orange benefits to these veterans.

“Veterans in Wisconsin and across the country continue to face painful health challenges from Agent Orange exposure during their service in the Navy during the Vietnam War,” said Senator Baldwin. “I’m working across party lines on this bipartisan legislation to help ensure that our veterans who sacrificed for our country receive the care that they have earned and deserve.”

“VVA strongly supports justice for Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans! This bill would complete the obligation to those who served in the bays, harbors, and territorial seas of the Republic of Vietnam during the period beginning on January 9, 1962, and ending on May 7, 1975 by recognizing exposure to the toxin Agent Orange and ensuring eligibility for all related Federal benefits that come with such presumption under the Agent Orange Act of 1991,” said John Rowan, National President and CEO of Vietnam Veterans of America.

“The VFW strongly agrees with the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims that it is arbitrary and capricious for veterans who have served aboard ships in the coastal waters of Vietnam to be denied presumptive benefits associated with Agent Orange exposure. For this reason, we support your legislation which would end this injustice and ensure Blue Water Navy veterans receive the care and benefits they deserve,” said Raymond Kelley, Director of VFW National Legislative Service.

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed approximately 20 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam to remove jungle foliage. This toxic chemical had devastating health effects on millions serving in Vietnam.

In 1991, Congress passed a law requiring the VA to provide presumptive coverage to Vietnam veterans with illnesses that the Institute of Medicine has directly linked to Agent Orange exposure. However, in 2002, the VA decided that it would only cover Veterans who could prove that they had orders for “boots on the ground” during the Vietnam War. This exclusion prevents thousands of sailors from receiving benefits even though they had significant Agent Orange exposure from drinking and bathing in contaminated water just offshore.

In addition to Senators Baldwin, Warner and Kaine, the legislation is sponsored by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Steve Daines (R-MT), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Edward Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Gary Peters (D-MI), Rob Portman (R-OH), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Jon Tester (D-MT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act was previously introduced in the 114th Congress.

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