Battle for Blue Water Navy Benefits Will Begin Again in 2019

Battle for Blue Water Navy Benefits Will Begin Again in 2019

Sailors work on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CV-64) in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1968. (Terry Fincher/Getty Images)

(Updated with new legislation introduced)

Hours into the new legislative session, a House Republican introduced the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, which would expand presumptive exposure to Agent Orange to tens of thousands of veterans who served on ships off Vietnam's coast. The move comes after the previous Congress failed to pass identical legislation when the Senate declined to vote on the measure in the closing days of its session.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, introduced the legislation "to ensure that our Vietnam Veterans receive the benefits they deserve," he said in a news release announcing the bill. Roe and Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., the new chairman for the committee, announced in December plans to reintroduce the legislation once the new session began.

The bill would allow these veterans to receive benefits for Agent Orange exposure, which is connected to a variety of cancers and other long-term illnesses. An estimated 900,000 veterans have been exposed to Agent Orange; this bill would extended disability benefits to about 90,000 veterans.

The 2018 bill unanimously passed the House in June, but stalled in the Senate in December when two Republican senators, Wyoming's Mike Enzi and Utah's Mike Lee, blocked a motion for a unanimous consent votes.

[READ THE LETTER: MOAA, Other Veterans Groups Ask President Trump to Support Blue Water Navy Legislation]

“MOAA, along with many of our VSO partners, worked very hard on the Blue Water Navy legislation because it rights a historic wrong committed against Vietnam veterans,” said MOAA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret), as the prior congressional session closed. “Congress came incredibly close to correcting this injustice in 2018, and Senators (Kirsten) Gillibrand's and (Steve) Daines' commitment to veterans is unwavering and inspiring.

“Unfortunately, coming close is not good enough. MOAA and our dedicated partners will not rest until this bill becomes law.”

Amanda Dolasinski is MOAA's staff writer. She can be reached at amandad@moaa.org. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMOAA.