Daines leads bipartisan bill to extend benefits to Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange

Bipartisan legislation recently reintroduced by U.S. Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) would ensure that Navy veterans of the Vietnam War who were exposed to the toxin Agent Orange qualify for disability and health care benefits.

Daines and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) reintroduced the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act to address a 2002 decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to limit presumptive coverage of illnesses linked to Agent Orange exposure to troops who had “boots on the ground.”

The VA’s decision blocks presumptive coverage for Navy veterans, or “Blue Water” veterans, of the Vietnam War. The exclusion prevents thousands of sailors from receiving benefits even though they had significant Agent Orange exposure from drinking and bathing in contaminated water just offshore.

The bill would clarify existing law so that Blue Water veterans would be covered by the VA if they served within “territorial seas,” or approximately 12 miles offshore of Vietnam.

“Blue Water veterans are true heroes to our nation who have not been given the care and treatment they deserve,” Daines said. “I’ve been working with my colleagues across the aisle to gain care for veterans exposed to toxic substances and we will never stop pushing this fight. This issue is not about politics. It’s about doing what’s right.”

Gillibrand said thousands of veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange are now suffering severe health problems but have been denied coverage by an arbitrary rule.

“The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would correct this problem for our Blue Water veterans, and would require the VA to treat all Vietnam veterans who came into contact with Agent Orange, regardless of where it happened,” Gillibrand said.

John Rowan, the national president and CEO of Vietnam Veterans of America, said the organization strongly supports Blue Water veterans.

“This bill would complete the obligation to those who served in the bays, harbors and territorial seas of the Republic of Vietnam during the period beginning on Jan. 9, 1962, and ending on May 7, 1975, by recognizing exposure to the toxin Agent Orange and ensuring eligibility for all related federal benefits that come with such presumption under the Agent Orange Act of 1991,” Rowan said.