(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ranking Member of the Senator Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, led a bipartisan group of 14 Senators in urging the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (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 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.
“Thousands of veterans who served on Navy ships during the Vietnam War are suffering from significant health conditions associated with exposure to toxic herbicides,” the Senators wrote. “Although these “Blue Water Navy” veterans served only aboard ships in the territorial waters of Vietnam, many were nonetheless profoundly affected by Agent Orange and other chemicals used as defoliants.”
The senators cited expert testimony at a recent SVAC hearing, as well as a decision by the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, all which support the need for VA to revisit this policy, writing, “there seems to be ample reason for you to make this policy decision in favor of the many veterans who are suffering from painful and debilitating diseases, and for whom justice is long overdue. As you did recently by extending the presumption to former reservists who had contact with contaminated C-123 aircraft used to spray herbicides in Vietnam, we urge you to use your rulemaking power to make it easier for Blue Water Navy veterans to find the care they need and deserve.”
“We respectfully request that you use your statutory authority to afford the presumption of service connection to veterans with Agent Orange-related diseases who served in the territorial seas of the Republic of Vietnam between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975. We implore you to implement this change to the regulations immediately, so that the thousands of Blue Water Navy veterans can begin receiving the benefits that they have heretofore been unjustly denied.”
The letter was co-signed by U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Bob Casey, Jr. (D-Penn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
Full text of the letter can be viewed here.