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Valadao Introduces Legislation to Expand Benefits for Vietnam Blue Water Navy Veterans

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Washignton, January 5, 2017 | Anna R. Vetter ((202) 815-1685) | comments
Today, U.S. Congressman David G. Valadao (CA-21) introduced bipartisan legislation in the House of Representatives to expand benefits for Vietnam blue water navy veterans.
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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Congressman David G. Valadao (CA-21) introduced bipartisan legislation in the House of Representatives to expand benefits for Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans. Joined by lead cosponsors, Representatives Timothy J. Walz (D-MN), Elise M. Stefanik (R-NY), and Joe Courtney (D-CT), H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act works to grant presumptive Agent Orange exposure status to U.S. military personnel who served in the territorial seas of Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

Author of the legislation, Congressman David G. Valadao stated, “Ensuring our veterans have access to proper medical care is a small, yet important, symbol of gratitude for their service, especially when their medical conditions are a result of active service.” He continued, “I am proud to introduce this legislation today, and as a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, and Veterans Affairs, I will continue to fight for the men and women of our Armed Forces and for our selfless veterans.” 

“This is about our Nation fulfilling its sacred duty of caring for those who have served and their families,” said Rep. Tim Walz. “We have an indelible obligation to help Blue Water Navy veterans from the Vietnam War get the benefits they deserve. This is not something we can pass off or ignore. We must be data driven. When the Congress allowed the Agent Orange Act of 1991 to expire, the need for this Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans legislation became absolutely critical. Our Nation must exhaust every effort to identify, prevent, and heal the injuries, illnesses, and wounds our military service personnel received during their service.”

“It’s critical that we ensure our brave Blue Water Vietnam Vets get the care they need and deserve,” said Congresswoman Stefanik. “This important legislation extends VA coverage to these brave warriors. As the representative of more veterans than any Congressional district in New York State, I am proud to support this critical bill to ensure that we never leave behind our veterans who have served heroically.”

“As the VA continues to deny care and benefits to Blue Water Vietnam Veterans, it is about time that Congress steps in to protect these vets and provide them with the care they deserve,” said Congressman Courtney. “I am urging my colleagues on both sides of the political aisle to put differences aside and pass the bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act. This bill will ensure that all those who served on naval ships in the waters surrounding Vietnam and were exposed to Agent Orange get the appropriate care for a arrange of medical issues directly related to this chemical. Like many veterans in my district who regularly share their concerns about this issue, I am deeply disappointed in the VA’s continued refusal to act. It is long past time to right this wrong, and our bill will fix this problem once and for all by specifying in law that those who served in the territorial seas of Vietnam are included in the presumption of exposure to Agent Orange.”

Congressman Ross said, “I am proud to be an original cosponsor of this important legislation because we need to ensure our selfless and courageous veterans receive the care and respect they deserve. Many of my very own constituents have been denied claims by the VA in regards to Agent Orange exposure diseases, and it is completely unacceptable. There is absolutely no reason those veterans who served in the waters off the coast of Vietnam and currently suffer from diseases related to Agent Orange exposure should not qualify for current VA care. As we have decried for too many years now, the VA needs to be much more responsive to our veterans. They are the backbone of the freedom and prosperity America has enjoyed for more than two hundred years, and I refuse to let their sacrifices and service go undervalued and unnoticed. Turning our backs on them is truly un-American, bottom line.”

H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would grant presumptive Agent Orange exposure status to U.S. service members who served in the territorial seas of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. This would enable eligible veterans to receive expedited consideration for Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits if they suffer from any of the diseases the U.S. Government has linked to Agent Orange.

The measure has received support from various veteran’s organizations including the Association of the United States Navy, the Fleet Reserve Association, Military-Veterans Advocacy, Inc., and the Blue Water Navy Association. Original cosponsors of the legislation include Representatives Joe Courtney (D-CT), Frank A. LoBiondo (R-NJ), Dennis A. Ross (R-FL), Elise M. Stefanik (R-NY), and Timothy J. Walz (D-MN).

  • During the Vietnam War, more than 20 million gallons of the herbicide “Agent Orange” were sprayed to remove jungle foliage. A toxic chemical in the herbicide has since been linked to devastating health effects, including non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL), various cancers, Type II Diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease. 
  • The Agent Orange Act of 1991 (AOA) empowered the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to declare certain illnesses “presumptive” to exposure to Agent Orange and enabled veterans to receive disability compensation for these related conditions. 
  • However, in 2002, the VA stopped giving benefits to blue water veterans and limited the scope of the AOA to only those veterans who could provide proof of “boots on the ground” in Vietnam. As a result, veterans who served in the waters off of the Vietnamese coast or in bays and harbors were required to file individual claims to restore their benefits, which have then been decided on a case-by-case basis. 
Key Provisions:
  • This bill restores the presumptive coverage for those who served in the territorial seas of Vietnam that existed prior to 2002 and lifts the burden from the individual veteran to prove direct exposure to Agent Orange.
  • The presumption currently exists for veterans who served on land and inland waterways, and therefore the bill places Navy personnel on the same playing field as those who served in country. The legislation would also reduce backlogged VA claims for veterans who are suffering from diseases the U.S. government has linked to Agent Orange, therefore reducing the overall VA backlog.
More information about H.R. 299 including a summary of the legislation and bill text can be found here.

Congressman David G. Valadao represents the 21st Congressional District, which includes Kings County and portions of Fresno, Tulare, and Kern Counties.

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U.S. Congressman David G. Valadao

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