August 2, 2017 -
WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Congressman David G. Valadao (CA-21), joined by lead Democrat Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02), sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs regarding the Department's longstanding position on providing presumptive benefits to Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans.
In the letter, U.S. Congressman David G. Valadao (CA-21) referenced Secretary Shulkin's recent testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, on which Congressman Valadao serves. The letter states the Secretary "expressed doubts with the VA’s longstanding position on providing presumptive benefits to Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans" and requests an update on whether the Department of Veterans Affairs has further recommendations. Furthermore, the letter urges the Secretary to use his statutory authority to restore the presumption of service connection to Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans.
The complete text of the letter can be found here.
Congressman David G. Valadao stated, “I am thankful for Secretary Shulkin's commitment to serving our nation's veterans and look forward to working with him to provide all veterans the support they deserve." He continued, "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."
In January, Congressman Valadao introduced H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act to 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 (AUSN), the Fleet Reserve Association, Military-Veterans Advocacy, Inc., and the Blue Water Navy Association. In addition, 295 Members of Congress, including 137 Republicans and 159 Democrats have cosponsored the legislation in the House of Representatives.
- 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.
More information about H.R. 299 including a summary of the legislation and bill text can be found here.
- 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.
Congressman David G. Valadao represents the 21st Congressional District of California, which includes Kings County and portions of Fresno, Tulare, and Kern Counties.