WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Congressman David G. Valadao (CA-21), joined by 118 of his colleagues in the House of Representatives, sent a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee urging the timely consideration of H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act by the Committee.
In January 2017, 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 and thus, ensure America’s veterans receive the health care benefits they deserve. On June 25, 2018, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 299 and sent the legislation to the Senate for further consideration.
The letter explains, “One of the primary responsibilities of the United States Government is to ensure those who have fought for our freedom are afforded the care and benefits they deserve upon their return home. Despite this, the Department of Veterans Affairs continues to deny claims from Blue Water Navy Veterans, creating significant hardship for these brave Americans who are suffering from chronic health conditions resulting from their exposure.”
The full text of the letter can be found here.
Just prior to the release of the Valadao-led letter, Former Secretary of the Department of Veteran Affairs, David Shulkin, MD, also sent a letter urging the Senate to pass the legislation.
“As Secretary, I was faced with the dilemma of what to do when there was insufficient evidence to make a reasonable conclusion.
I stated then – and continue to believe – that in the absence of reliable data to guide a decision, the answer must not be to simply deny benefits. When there is a deadlock, my personal belief is that the tie should be broken in favor of the brave men and women that put their lives on the line for all of us,” he stated.
H.R. 299 has received support from various veteran organizations including The Military Coalition, the Association of the United States Navy (AUSN), Vietnam Veterans of America, the Fleet Reserve Association, Military-Veterans Advocacy, Inc., the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, and the Blue Water Navy Association. In addition, 330 Members of Congress, including 155 Republicans and 175 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.
H.R. 299 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.
SOURCE: news provided by valadao.house.gov on September 21, 2018.