(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, released the following statement after the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) rejected calls to expand a presumption of exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides to veterans who served offshore and in the harbors of Vietnam.
“Rather than siding with veterans, VA is doubling down on an irrational and inconsistent policy. Young sailors risked their lives during the Vietnam War, unaware that decades later, they and their children and grandchildren would still feel the toxic effects of exposure. Veterans who served offshore and in the harbors of Vietnam were exposed and deserve the presumption of service connection for Agent Orange-related diseases. Since VA either will not or cannot right this wrong on its own, I urge my colleagues to support S.681, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015, which would ensure all veterans exposed to Agent Orange are compensated.”
Earlier this year, Senator Blumenthal led a bipartisan group of 14 Senators in urging VA to change inconsistent and burdensome regulations placed on “Blue Water Navy” veterans seeking 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; veterans who did not serve on the ground, yet suffer from exposure-related conditions, are required to meet a burden of proof to receive VA-provided care and benefits. In their January 12th letter to VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald, the senators requested VA quickly change this policy to ensure all Vietnam veterans, not just not just those who served as “boots on the ground” in Vietnam, can easily access and receive the necessary health care for conditions resulting from chemical exposure.
S.681, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015, introduced by Senator Gillibrand (D-NY), amends Title 38 to include as part of the Republic of Vietnam its territorial seas for purposes of the presumption of service connection for diseases associated with exposure by veterans to certain herbicide agents while in Vietnam. The bipartisan legislation currently has 37 cosponsors.