WASHINGTON D.C., DC — The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation on Tuesday to extend benefits to Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans.
The service members served aboard ships off the Vietnam coastline during the war and were exposed to the toxic chemical Agent Orange. However, until recently, the Blue Water veterans were not eligible for the same disability benefits as those who served inside Vietnam itself.
"It has been a long hard fought battle to secure these benefits," said Rep. Mark Takano (D-California), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. "In the process, we have let Blue Water Navy veterans and their survivors experience immeasurable pain and grief."
The passed legislation, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, would extend the presumption of exposure to Agent Orange to veterans who served offshore of Vietnam.
The bill passed the house 410 to 0.
This means those veterans now qualified for disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In January of 2019, the Federal Circuit overturned VA’s interpretation of the Agent Orange Act of 1991 in the case of Procopio v. Wilkie, ruling that the “Republic of Vietnam” included Vietnam’s territorial seas. While the court’s ruling made some Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans eligible for the presumption of service-connection for Agent Orange exposure, it did not define territorial seas.
The bill that passed the House fully defines Vietnam’s offshore waters - which encompass the territorial seas - and ensure that the Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans who were potentially exposed to Agent Orange during their service are eligible for a presumption of service-connection by VA for such exposure.
This bill mirrors the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017, which passed the House during the 115th Congress by a vote of 382 – 0.
Congresswoman Elaine Luria spoke on the House floor and voted for the bill she cosponsored on Tuesday.
“I’m thankful to the House of Representatives for stepping up to the plate and fulfilling our responsibility to our veterans and their service to America,” Congresswoman Luria said on the House floor. “Our Senate colleagues should do the same so we can get this legislation to the White House and pass it into law.”
The bill moves now to the Senate, where it has at least one backer in Virginia Senator Mark Warner.
In a Tweet, Warner said: "Blue Water Navy veterans served honorably, but they were denied benefits on a technicality. They deserve to get what they earned."
View the full bill below: