For the second time in the last 12 months, House lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a measure to ease disability benefit rules for veterans who served on ships off the coasts of Vietnam and suffered serious illnesses they insist are connected to chemical defoliant exposure.
And, once again, advocates are left waiting to see if the Senate will follow suit.
The legislation — the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act — passed 410-0 with strong messages of support from both Democratic and Republican leadership. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., said the move is needed to correct what he called years of mistakes in denying those veterans disability benefits for their injuries.
“Congress has failed our blue water Navy veterans, plain and simple,” he said on the House floor before the vote. “Today, we will right this wrong … This bill is the quickest and clearest route to delivering benefits to those who served. They have waited long enough.”
Federal officials have until the end of April to formally decide whether to appeal a court ruling which could grant disability benefits to more than 90,000 veterans.
The measure affects about 90,000 veterans who served on ships during the Vietnam War but never set foot in the country. If they had, they would be eligible for presumptive benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, a process which bypasses hard evidence connecting a veteran’s illness to their military service because of an established presumed connection between the two.
So while a veteran who served on the shoreline can receive disability payouts after contracting Parkinson’s disease or prostate cancer, a veteran who served on a ship a few miles away would have to provide specific scientific evidence that they were exposed to toxic chemicals while on duty.