(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) were today joined by a coalition of veterans and advocates to call for Senate passage of the bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act.
The Senators’ effort follows a request for unanimous passage of the bill on the Senate floor Monday evening, during which one Senator objected and prevented the bill from moving forward. Their bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act changes current law to guarantee that veterans who served off the shores of Vietnam and were exposed to toxins such as Agent Orange can access treatment and receive benefits from the VA. Currently, only veterans who served within the borders of Vietnam can access health care and benefits related to their Agent Orange exposure.
“If we aren’t willing to take care of our veterans when they come home, we should not send them in to harm’s way,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “We made a promise to those veterans and we must pass our bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act to live up to it. I won’t stop fighting for the veterans who are counting on this bill to pass before the end of the year.”
“It is unacceptable that for the past sixteen years, the VA has denied health benefits to our Blue Water Navy vets just because of an arbitrary rule blocking veterans who served on boats off Vietnam’s coast from the benefits they have earned and deserve. It’s outrageous that a couple of Senators are now blocking these benefits too by refusing to pass the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act,” said Gillibrand. “The current policy for Blue Water Navy veterans is preventing thousands of veterans from getting the support and treatment they desperately need for their exposure to Agent Orange. Our veterans are heroes and deserve nothing less than the very best care and treatment available, and our Blue Water Navy vets should not wait another second to get the benefits they have already earned. The House has already passed this legislation with no objection, and the Senate must act immediately to pass this bill and send it to the President’s desk to be signed into law.”
“The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act is about fairness, about justice and about congressional intent,” Daines said. “The intent of congress was to ensure that those who served in Vietnam and were exposed to agent orange are getting the care they need and deserve. It’s time to make this wrong, right. We need to take away the muddy water of the VA and pass the bipartisan Blue Water bill to protect our veterans. I urge my colleagues to support this and get it done before the year end.”
“Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans deserve simple justice,” said Blumenthal. “There is no reason to delay our bipartisan legislation to remove the excessive obstacles these veterans face when accessing the health care and other benefits they earned. This measure is not a gift or charity. It is what we owe these veterans.”
“If you were exposed to poison while serving our country, you deserve the benefits you earned, period. No exceptions,” Brown said.
“DAV is deeply disappointed that the bipartisan efforts of Senators Tester, Gillibrand, Daines and Isakson to pass the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act were blocked last night by a single Senator,” said Randy Reese, Assistant Executive Director of DAV. “All 2.7 million veterans who served in Vietnam, including those who served off the shores of Vietnam, should be treated equally when it comes to the benefits and health care they have earned. VA’s unilateral decision to remove the Agent Orange presumption for Blue Water Navy veterans was a mistake when it was made in 2002 and it is long past the time for Congress to correct this grave error before it is too late for the Vietnam generation.”
“I served on the USS Whitfield County,” said Jerry Manar, Blue Water Navy Veteran and former VFW National Veterans Service Director. “During my two years aboard, we went to Vietnam three times and patrolled endless days up and down the coast. We went swimming in the water, processed it for drinking water, and cooked with it. If there was dioxin in the water we were exposed to it. Wars don’t end when the last bullet is fired and the soldiers come home. For far too many service members, the war continues to affect them, often for the rest of their lives. Their injuries, diseases and disabilities are also a cost of war. The Senate must vote to ensure that veterans receive the medical treatment and assistance that they have earned with their service to America.”
“The American Legion stands with Chairman Isakson, Ranking Member Tester, Senator Daines and others in supporting HR 299,” said Matt Shuman, Legislative Director of the American Legion. “Blue Water Navy veterans deserve these life altering benefits. When men and women sign up and take the oath of our nation, they do not weigh the cost of war, that is Congress’ job. Ensuring these veterans receive the benefits they have earned is quite honestly the right thing to do.”