Blumenthal Files Testimony During Connecticut General Assembly Hearing In Support of Recognizing Agent Orange Exposure of Blue Water Navy Veterans

Current federal policy presents excessive obstacles for Blue Water Navy veterans seeking care and benefits for health conditions caused by exposure to toxic chemicals while serving aboard Navy ships in Vietnam.

(Hartford, CT)- Yesterday, during a Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing at the Connecticut General Assembly, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) filed testimony on House Joint Resolution 25 (HJR 25), a Resolution Recognizing Blue Navy Veterans.  HJR25 encourages the United States Congress to restore the presumption of service connection for Agent Orange exposure to “Blue Navy Veterans” who served in the coastal waters of Vietnam during the war.

“The United States owes a debt of gratitude to the men and women who served, and serve, in our armed forces.  These people preserve our freedoms and make our nation the strongest country in the world.  Veterans deserve the highest quality health services and other forms of assistance to ensure that they are able to lead productive, healthy lives.  This national responsibility is especially important in the area of exposure to Agent Orange and other chemicals,” Blumenthal writes.

Currently, “Blue Water Navy” veterans are burdened with excessive obstacles to qualify for health care and benefits for conditions resulting from toxic chemical exposure during their service aboard Navy ships in Vietnam. Since 2002, only veterans serving within the land boundaries of Vietnam are presumed to have health conditions resulting from chemical exposure Agent Orange.

In January, Blumenthal led a bipartisan letter with 14 Senators to VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald requesting the VA quickly change their policy to ensure all Vietnam veterans, including Blue Water Navy veterans, can easily access and receive the necessary health care for conditions resulting from chemical exposure.

Blumenthal is the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

The full testimony is below.

TESTIMONY OF UNITED STATES SENATOR RICHARD BLUMENTHAL BEFORE THE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS AFFAIRS

FEBRUARY 23, 2016

I appreciate the opportunity to submit these comments on House Joint Resolution 25, a Resolution Recognizing Blue Water Navy Veterans.   HJR 25 encouraged the United States Congress to restore the presumption of service connection for Agent Orange exposure to veterans who served in the coastal waters of Vietnam during the war.   

The United States owes a debt of gratitude to the men and women who served, and serve, in our armed forces.  These people preserve our freedoms and make our nation the strongest country in the world.  Veterans deserve the highest quality health services and other forms of assistance to ensure that they are able to lead productive, healthy lives.  This national responsibility is especially important in the area of exposure to Agent Orange and other chemicals

I strongly support S.681, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015 which would grant the same presumptions service-connected disability for veterans who were in the territorial seas of Vietnam as those who had boots on the ground.  I am hopeful that this legislation will be approved by Congress – it is both fair and equitable to all veterans that we recognize the Agent Orange exposure of Blue Water Navy personnel. 

While Congressional action is appropriate, current law allows the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, through administrative action, to extend the presumption of Agent Orange exposure to Blue Water Navy veterans.  The Secretary recently used this authority to extend this presumption to the stateside aircrews who flew C-123 aircraft that had sprayed the herbicide in Vietnam.  While I, along with 14 U.S. Senators, urged the Secretary to grant similar Agent Orange presumption to Blue Water Navy veterans, the Secretary declined to act.

Finally, more research on the broader issue of exposure to hazardous substances during military service is desperately needed. That’s why I introduced the Toxic Exposure Research Act of 2015 which supports researching  the health conditions faced by descendants of veterans exposed to toxic substances while in the Armed Forces. This bipartisan legislation has 35 cosponsors.

I greatly appreciate the concerns for our veterans as embodied in HJR 25 and am willing to continue to work with the members of the Committee on Veterans Affairs on this and other critical issues facing our veterans.

Thank you.

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