Gillibrand Sponsors Blue Navy Vets Legislation

The U.S. Senate has passed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which would ensure Blue Water Navy Veterans have access to the benefits and care.

“I have been proud to lead the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act for years and am thrilled that the Senate has finally passed this bipartisan bill to ensure Blue Water Navy vets are guaranteed the benefits they have earned and deserve,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York. “For years the federal government has failed to meet its sacred obligation to our Blue Water Navy veterans. Congress has a responsibility to ensure that all sailors exposed to Agent Orange while serving off the Vietnamese coast during the war are covered, and last night’s unanimous voice vote is a major victory for thousands of veterans who have waited far too long for VA benefits. I am thankful to Senator Daines for working alongside me to pass this bill, and I urge President Trump to sign this bill into law as soon as possible.”

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed 20 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam to remove jungle foliage. The chemical had health effects on millions serving in Vietnam. In 1991, Congress passed a law requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide presumptive coverage to all Vietnam veterans with illnesses that the Institute of Medicine has directly linked to Agent Orange exposure, including those who were stationed on ships off the Vietnamese coast, also known as Blue Water Navy veterans. However, in 2002, the Veterans Administration decided it would only cover veterans who could prove that they had orders for “boots on the ground” during the Vietnam War. The exclusion prevented thousands of sailors from receiving benefits even though they had significant Agent Orange exposure from drinking and bathing in contaminated water just offshore.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned a 16-year-old Veterans Administration policy that denied benefits to thousands of Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Gillibrand said congressional action was still needed to guarantee all Blue Water veterans would receive care.

The bill will also ensure that those exposed while serving in Korea and the children of those service members exposed in Thailand who were born with spina bifida can also receive benefits.