Blue Water Navy Bill Advances, Gulf War Vets Study Included

Blue Water Navy Bill Advances, Gulf War Vets Study Included

On May 8, 2018, the House Veterans Affairs Committee voted to advance H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, to the full House for a vote.

The committee vote came on the heels of a May 7 meeting of Lt. Gen Atkins, USAF (Ret), the president and CEO of Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), and U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the committee.

Atkins discussed details of the bill, which MOAA and other veteran service organizations have been engaging on diligently for the past few months. Roe and Walz have also devoted a great amount of energy and good will to ensure H.R. 299 advanced out of the committee this year. However, to advance the bill, some compromises had to be made.

Compromise: The committee had to find a way to pay for the additional benefits and health care that would be granted to Blue Water Navy veterans. 

Committee solution: The House Committee on Veterans' Affairs proposed to amend H.R. 299 to include an increase in VA home loan funding fees to pay for the benefits provided to the Blue Water Navy veterans. 

MOAA response: MOAA opposes raising fees for currently serving and veteran populations or cutting their benefits in order to pay for other military or veteran benefits. 

“I was disappointed with the understanding the 'pay for' of this disability benefit was raising VA home loan fees,” Atkins wrote in a letter to Roe. “This resource option  places the financial burden solely on that one percent of the U.S. population who served their nation in time of conflict and relieves the remaining 99 percent of our nation's population of bearing any financial responsibility or liability.” 

Atkins reinforced this message Monday in person with Roe. 

MOAA suggested that if fees must be increased, then any excess revenues collected should be used toward researching other toxic exposures so future generations of veterans would not be placed in the same predicament as Blue Water Navy veterans. As a result, the bill does include funding for a follow-up report on certain Gulf War illnesses.

Incorporation in legislation: The bill requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs provide a report to Congress of the National Cohort of Gulf War and Gulf War Veterans under the epidemiology program of the VA to ensure those veterans do not face the same absence of studies and record keeping that Vietnam veterans suffered. For Vietnam veterans, the biggest hurdle in proving evidence of herbicide exposure among Blue Water Navy veterans has been a sparsity of record keeping and contemporaneous reports, not necessarily an absence of scientific evidence regarding the biological effects of the toxins themselves.

Bonus: In addition to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs' report, the bill also would extend the presumption of herbicide exposure to veterans who served on the Korean DMZ between Sept. 1, 1967, and Aug. 31, 1971. It would extend health care, vocational training and rehabilitation, as well as a monetary allowance to a child born with spina bifida if at least one of the parents was a veteran who served in Thailand between Jan. 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975, and was exposed to herbicides. The VA, in consultation with DoD, would further be required to submit a report to Congress identifying the military installations within the United States where herbicides were used between Jan. 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975. 

Next steps

The full House will vote on the bill. If it passes, the bill will head to the Senate.

If the bill becomes law, VA home loan funding fees will increase - except for those who have a service-connected disability. They will still be exempted from the fees. The bill also would eliminate a cap on VA loan amounts, allowing them to be used for “jumbo” mortgages. Another provision of the bill would make it easier to obtain VA appraisals for home loan purchases. 

MOAA will continue to remain engaged on this, and other, toxic exposure legislation. If you have thoughts or concerns about this issue, please email legis@moaa.org

 

 

Join Today


Not a member of MOAA? When you join MOAA, you become part of the strongest advocate for our military's personnel and their families. The stronger our membership is, the stronger our voice becomes. Consider joining today because every voice counts.

Rate this content