Forty-three years after the Vietnam War ended, tens of thousands of U.S. veterans are still fighting for benefits they earned in that conflict.
Their victory over bureaucracy was in sight in June when 382 U.S. House members agreed on a voice vote to pass H.R.299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017. David Shulkin, then secretary for Veterans Affairs, was not opposed to the bill.
In 1991, a law made all Vietnam veterans eligible for benefits to cover specific ailments related to exposure to Agent Orange. The U.S. military doused Vietnam with 20 million gallons of this toxic defoliant during the war. But in in 2002, the VA issued a rule saying that veterans had to have served on land to be eligible for Agent Orange coverage.
That rule left Navy veterans without the health and disability coverage for conditions such as Parkinson’s, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and diabetes.
Finally in 2017, 330 members of the U.S. House — 175 Democrats and 155 Republicans — sponsored legislation specifying that when Congress said “all veterans” it meant U.S. Navy veterans, too. Reps. Greg Gianforte of Montana and Liz Cheney of Wyoming didn’t sponsor H.R.299, but they voted for it.