U.S. Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) on Monday called for the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to support full benefits for “Blue Water” Vietnam War veterans.
Since 2002, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has only deemed Vietnam War veterans who were deployed on land or in inland waters eligible for full service-related disability benefits for exposure to Agent Orange. Navy veterans deployed in open water, known as Blue Water vets, are ineligible.
Daines and Gillibrand co-sponsored the bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015, S. 681, in March. The bill would make Vietnam War veterans who served in “territorial seas,” approximately 12 miles from coastal Vietnam, fully covered by the VA.
VA Secretary Bob McDonald said in a letter to Daines and Gillibrand last week that the agency would not reverse its decision on coverage of Blue Water veterans. That led the lawmakers to call on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to support their legislation on Monday.
“Our veterans deserve the best care our country can give them, and the VA is failing them in their most basic responsibility,” Daines said. “It is far past time for our Blue Water vets to get the benefits they deserve, and I’m calling on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to fix this bureaucratic nightmare. We owe it to them and must prioritize their long-overdue benefits, and do what the VA hasn’t, live up to the promises our government made to them.”
Current VA policy discriminates against thousands of Navy veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, Gillibrand said.
“We need to make sure that all of our veterans are getting the care they earned and now need — not just a select few who happened to serve in one arbitrary place over another,” Gillibrand added. “The VA’s refusal to change its Agent Orange policy is a clear sign that Congress must quickly come together to pass the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act.”