The U.S. Senate has given final legislative approval to the bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act. Senator Richard Blumenthal says this will ensure that thousands of Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War are able to receive the health care and benefits. The bill got unanimous support last week and now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law. Blumenthal says because these service members had boots aboard ships instead of boots on the ground, they’ve been denied this coverage.
Army veteran Eugene Clarke of Redding has spent years fighting on behalf of veterans who served in Korea in the 1960s and were exposed to Agent Orange. Clarke provided evidence that defoliants were sprayed during testing prior to 1968. Currently, only veterans who served on the Korean DMZ from April 1968 through August 1971 are eligible for presumptive coverage.
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed approximately 20 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam to remove jungle foliage. This toxic chemical had devastating health effects on millions serving in Vietnam.
The law passed in 1991 included coverage for service members stationed on ships off the Vietnamese coast, also known as Blue Water Navy veterans. But in 2002 the VA decided that it would only cover Veterans who could prove that they had orders for “boots on the ground” during the Vietnam War. This exclusion has prevented thousands of sailors from receiving benefits even though they had significant Agent Orange exposure from drinking and bathing in contaminated water just offshore.