OPINION: America’s ‘Blue Water’ Vietnam Veterans Served in Good Faith, and Now Need our Help
The Blue Water Vietnam Veterans Act, while long overdue, is essential to the proper care of our veterans. Passage of this legislation will provide relief to veterans suffering from diseases linked to Agent Orange exposure and will pave a way for neglected veterans to receive benefits they both need and deserve.Over 2.5 million Americans served overseas during the Vietnam War. Many were barely 20 years old when they left behind their families, friends and way of life to defend democracy and freedom. These brave soldiers not only experienced gunfire, bombing and the terrors of war; they were also exposed to an extremely harmful chemical that our own forces were commanded to spray over Vietnam forests during their service.
This chemical, known as Agent Orange, was used to kill plants and deprive the Viet Cong of food and coverage. Although the health risks associated with exposure to the chemical were not anticipated to affect U.S. troops, those who served in Vietnam now must endure cancers, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, Type II diabetes and other ailments as a result of their exposure. For many, daily life includes constant medication and care, an expensive and tiresome necessity.
Prior to 1991, veterans exposed to the harmful chemical received no compensation for their suffering or medical costs. However, that year, the Agent Orange Act of 1991 (AOA) empowered the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to declare certain illnesses “presumptive” to exposure to Agent Orange. This enabled veterans to receive disability compensation for conditions they developed from exposure to the deadly chemical.
However, in 2002, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) stopped giving benefits to those who served on ships that operated offshore Vietnam, known as Blue Water Navy Veterans.
As a result, nearly 90,000 veterans are not eligible to receive the disability benefits they deserve despite evidence that they were exposed to Agent Orange while aboard ships off the shore of Vietnam. Consequentially, Blue Water Navy Veterans are required to file individual claims to restore their benefits. These claims, decided on a case-by-case basis, have resulted in denial of benefits for most.
To address this gap in coverage, I introduced House Resolution 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, to ensure these neglected heroes finally receive the compensation and coverage they deserve. Last month, this bill passed unanimously in the House of Representatives with over 300 co-sponsors, showing the widespread agreement that this injustice needs to end now. While this bill still must pass in the Senate and be signed by President Donald Trump, I am confident my colleagues will understand just how important this issue is, and I compel them to fulfill their role in properly providing for our veterans.
Of the 2.5 million Americans who served in the Vietnam War, nearly 60,000 were killed or declared missing in action. While they are honored with the inscription of their names on the memorial in Washington, D.C., we must honor those who returned home as well. No matter how we show appreciation for all our veterans have done for us, the very least we can do is treat the illnesses they endure because they were willing to fight for democracy and American values.
The Blue Water Vietnam Veterans Act, while long overdue, is essential to the proper care of our veterans. Passage of this legislation will provide relief to veterans suffering from diseases linked to Agent Orange exposure and will pave a way for neglected veterans to receive benefits they both need and deserve.
After all, it is not enough to merely thank those who gave everything to defend our nation, sacrificing their comfort and health to protect the freedoms we enjoy. It is time we return the favor, providing for and protecting them in return for all they’ve provided and protected for us.