As the nation prepares to celebrate Memorial Day, Congressman Vern Buchanan called for swift passage of legislation restoring health coverage for 90,000 Navy veterans who were potentially exposed to the toxic chemical Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
In a letter to U.S. House Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., Buchanan urged the committee to take up the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act restoring VA health benefits for Navy veterans who served on ships and ports off the coast of Vietnam.
Buchanan is a co-sponsor of the bill.
Navy veterans who served in Vietnam, commonly referred to as “Blue Water” veterans, were eligible to receive benefits under the Agent Orange Act of 1991, but their eligibility was discontinued in 2002 by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA decided at the time that only veterans who served on land in Vietnam would be granted full health coverage for exposure to Agent Orange.
“This is unacceptable,” Buchanan said. “They fought and sacrificed just like their fellow soldiers who served on land in Vietnam. Denying them health coverage is a gross injustice.”
Veterans from the 16th congressional district are among those who have been exposed to Agent Orange-contaminated water. “We drank it, we bathed in it, we cooked in it and we climbed all over the planes that flew through it,” said Ronald Babcock in a recent news report.
The U.S. Air Force sprayed nearly 11 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam to defoliate jungles and remove cover used by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers.
Exposure to the toxic herbicide has been linked to prostate cancer, Parkinson’s disease, respiratory cancers, ischemic heart disease and more.
Despite the VA’s decision to terminate coverage, a 2005 study by the Australian Department of Veterans Affairs found that Australian Navy veterans who served in Vietnam had approximately twice the rate of cancer than Army veterans.
Buchanan said the arbitrary distinction between serving on land or on sea shouldn’t be a factor in any veteran’s access to VA health care. Regardless of where they were exposed to this deadly chemical, all veterans should be treated equally in their access to health care.
“The VA made a sacred promise “to care for him who shall have borne the battle,” Buchanan said. “In order to live up to that promise, Congress and the VA need to step up for Blue Water veterans.”
The legislation is supported by several of the nation’s leading veterans service organizations, including the Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Military Veterans Advocacy, Fleet Reserve Association, and Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association. A companion bill has also been introduced in the U.S. Senate.
Full text of the letter can be found below:
Dear Chairman Miller and Ranking Member Brown:
More than four decades ago, hundreds of thousands of our nation’s finest men and women in the Armed Forces returned home to their families and friends from Vietnam. But for 90,000 American sailors who served on ships and ports off the coast of Vietnam, commonly referred to as “Blue Water” Navy veterans, the war never really ended.
That’s because these veterans are being denied health care coverage from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for deadly diseases related to exposure to Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide that was used to kill vegetation and eliminate cover for enemy troops during the Vietnam War.
Tragically, these Vietnam servicemen and women have been told by the VA that they are ineligible for much-needed benefits. Currently, only veterans who served on land in Vietnam are eligible for benefits for illnesses tied to Agent Orange.
The U.S. Air Force sprayed nearly 11 million gallons of the toxic chemical in Vietnam. Exposure to Agent Orange has been linked to devastating illnesses including prostate cancer, Parkinson’s disease, respiratory cancers, ischemic heart disease and more.
And while Blue Water veterans have experienced identical diseases to their fellow soldiers who served on land in Vietnam just miles away from them – they don’t have identical coverage.
This situation is particularly frustrating because these veterans were previously covered under the original Agent Orange Act of 1991. This law made it clear that anyone who served in the war – whether on land or in Vietnam’s territorial waters – was presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange and should receive VA benefits for illnesses caused by it.
However, in 2002 the VA decided to strip benefits by limiting coverage to veterans who served on land in Vietnam.
This is unacceptable. They fought and sacrificed just like their fellow soldiers who served on land in Vietnam. Denying them health coverage is a gross injustice. This arbitrary distinction should not be the deciding factor in any veteran’s access to VA health care.
As Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, I’m urging you to immediately act on the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, bipartisan legislation for these veterans who are suffering from diseases linked to Agent Orange exposure.
Since its creation nearly a century ago, the VA made a sacred promise “to care for him who shall have borne the battle.” In order to live up to that promise, Congress and the VA need to step up for Blue Water veterans.
Member of Congress