Legislation to provide benefits to approximately 52,000 “Blue Water” veterans was reintroduced in January and now has the bipartisan support of 253 House lawmakers. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, reintroduced H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act.
The House unanimously passed a similar bill last summer, but it failed to pass in the Senate before the session ended. The bill would require the VA to assume veterans who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam but never had “boots on the ground” were exposed to Agent Orange and other harmful chemicals that led to rare cancers and other health problems.
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A late-term effort to pass the legislation last December was scuttled due to opposition from the Department of Veteran's Affair and some senators who expressed concern with the cost of implementation. With the reintroduction of the legislation, however, comes renewed interest in seeing the bill through to passage. Military.com reported earlier this week that Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has the votes necessary to pass the bill when it arrives without the same opposition that held up the bill last year.
The House bill also provides relief to veterans exposed to Agent Orange on the Korean DMZ and expands benefits to the children of veterans who served in Thailand and suffer from spina bifida.
A recent court case found that the evidence supporting presumption of exposure was sufficient and restored benefits for Blue Water veterans. The VA has not yet determined whether it will appeal the decision, but issued guidance to field offices to not fulfill claims at this time, awaiting a final determination on a separate case that will be heard by the Supreme Court later this year. Since neither court case includes provisions for the other groups covered within H.R. 299, passage of the bill will extend benefits to these groups and bring clarity to Blue Water veterans waiting for relief.
MOAA continues to work to find solutions for Blue Water veterans and to build the mechanisms by which future toxic exposures may be addressed as they become known. Reach out to your congressional representatives today and urge them to pass the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act today.