(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Representatives Annie Kuster (NH-02) and Chris Pappas (NH-01), issued the following statements after the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act was signed into law last night. The bipartisan bill was backed by every member of New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation, and would create a permanent legislative fix to help ensure “Blue Water” Navy veterans get the disability and health care benefits they deserve as a result of exposure to the dangerous pesticide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
“Blue Water Navy veterans have waited for far too long for this day to come,” said Senator Shaheen, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I’m very relieved that these brave individuals will have access to the disability benefits that they’ve earned. I appreciate the bipartisan support for this legislation so that Congress can finally right this wrong. The United States must always uphold its promise to support and stand by our veterans when they come home.”
“Agent Orange is an extremely dangerous pesticide, even for those serving at sea, and it is unconscionable that Blue Water Navy veterans who were exposed to this toxic chemical were not receiving the same care as those on the ground in Vietnam,” said Senator Hassan. “I am glad that the President has signed our bipartisan bill into law to help ensure that all veterans who served in Vietnam receive the benefits that they have rightfully earned.”
“For far too long, veterans who experienced toxic exposure while serving in the territorial waters off the coast of Vietnam have been unable to access the care and support they deserve,” said Congresswoman Kuster. “The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act will remove these barriers and help honor our promise to those who have served. I was proud to help introduce this commonsense legislation to right this wrong faced by far too many of our veterans. I will continue working to ensure all our brave service members can get the care and support they need.”
“I am glad to see our nation making good on its promise to take care of our veterans with the signing of the bipartisan Blue Water Navy Veteran Act into law,” said Congressman Pappas. “All veterans who have been exposed to harmful conditions overseas or here at home deserve VA benefits that honor their service and sacrifice. This legislation will help rectify decades of injustice by providing more than 90,000 Vietnam Veterans exposed to Agent Orange with the care they have earned.”
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed approximately 20 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam to remove jungle foliage. This toxic chemical had devastating health effects on millions of U.S. service members that served during the Vietnam War. In 1991, Congress passed a law requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) 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 VA decided that it would only cover Veterans who could prove that they served “boots on the ground” in Vietnam. This exclusion prevented thousands of sailors from receiving benefits even though they had been exposed to Agent Orange while serving on U.S. Navy ships offshore.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled earlier this year in favor of Alfred Procopio, Jr., a Blue Water Navy veteran, in his lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs. Although it appears that the VA will not appeal this decision and will begin providing benefits to most Blue Water Navy veterans, passing the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would codify into law protection for these veterans. The bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would clarify the existing law so that Blue Water Navy veterans would be granted VA coverage equitable to those who are already covered.