WASHINGTON — Congresswoman Elaine Luria is pushing for the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide full healthcare benefits for an estimated 52,000 Blue Water Navy veterans.
The service members served aboard ships off the Vietnam coastline during the war and were exposed to the toxic chemical Agent Orange. But up until very recently, the Blue Water veterans were not eligible for the same disability benefits as those who served inside Vietnam itself.
A federal appeals court in January ruled those veterans were eligible for the same disability benefits, although it was not immediately clear if it extended to full healthcare benefits from the V.A. as well.
At a House Committee on Veterans' Affairs hearing on Wednesday, Rep. Luria (VA-02) questioned V.A. Secretary Robert Wilkie to clarify about the full extent of benefits the Blue Water veterans will receive.
"My understanding is that the decision only includes Blue Water veterans for the purposes of V.A. benefits," she told Wilkie. "But for the purposes of V.A. healthcare, would you, within your discretion as Secretary, extend Priority 6 healthcare for the Blue Water veterans?"
Priority 6 is the V.A. healthcare group for veterans who served in Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975.
Secretary Wilkie responded by saying he wasn't certain if the full healthcare benefits were included in the court ruling, but the VA was currently planning under the assumption that it would be the case.
Wilkie added that he would "ask the lawyers" and get a complete answer in writing.