The fate of disability benefits for “blue water” Vietnam veterans will be among the key topics lawmakers tackle when they return from their district break at the end of the month.
In January, a federal court ruled that the Department of Veterans Affairs for years has used faulty reasoning to deny disability benefits to veterans who served in ships off the waters of Vietnam. VA officials had argued that extending the benefits to an additional 90,000 veterans would cost as much as $5 billion over 10 years, a figure that advocates have disputed.
This week, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Steve Daines, R-Mont., announced plans to reinforce that ruling and establish a permanent fix for those veterans, who claim exposure to cancer-causing chemical defoliants has caused a host of rare cancers and respirator illnesses.
Already the chairman and ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee have introduced similar plans, and that House panel is preparing for an expansive hearing on the topic early next month.
The decision could affect up to 90,000 veterans who have been petitioning VA officials for disability payouts for years.
The Department of Justice has until the end of the month to appeal the ruling, but VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has advised against doing so.
“Even though the court has ruled that the VA must provide these benefits, there is no guarantee it will happen,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “Congress must create a permanent legislative fix.”