Long-sought legislation that will extend disability benefits to about 90,000 veterans who served off Vietnam’s coast during the war was signed into law June 25 by President Donald Trump.
The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 will extend the presumption of exposure to toxic defoliants such as Agent Orange to these servicemembers, which will allow them to receive care for types of cancer and other illnesses linked to these chemicals. MOAA and other veteran service organizations, including Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and the Fleet Reserve Association, have championed the bill, which failed to clear Congress in previous sessions.
“This is great news and rectifies literally decades of oversight to tens of thousands of veterans who have been denied of the appropriate medical care and compensation from their exposure to toxic chemicals during combat operations,” said MOAA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret). “Hopefully, this sets the stage for future considerations of toxic chemical exposure and mandates both effective documentation and treatment for those service members exposed to these dangers.”
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The legislation passed the House on May 14 and the Senate on June 12. In January, a Federal Circuit court ruling granted presumptive exposure to Blue Water Navy veterans who served within the territorial waters of Vietnam; a motion in a separate court case, filed between the House and Senate votes, confirmed the VA would not appeal that ruling.
The act includes coordinates that define “offshore of Vietnam” for the purposes of the benefit. It also extends benefits to veterans exposed to Agent Orange on the Korean DMZ, and it expands benefits to those suffering from spina bifida who had a parent who served in Thailand during the Vietnam war. These groups were not covered by the court ruling.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie recently told a Senate committee that the VA began processing benefit claims from Blue Water Navy veterans before the legislation passed, according to Military Times.