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Bipartisan Legislation Backed By Senators Shaheen, Hassan to Get “Blue Water” Navy Veterans Benefits They Deserve Heads to President’s Desk for Signature

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate unanimously passed bipartisan legislation yesterday supported by Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan to ensure that thousands of “Blue Water” Navy veterans can receive the disability and health care benefits they deserve after their exposure to the dangerous pesticide Agent Orange while fighting in the Vietnam War. The bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act creates a permanent legislative fix to ensure that these veterans get their benefits, and is now on the way to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

“For too long, many Navy veterans who served in Vietnam have not received the care they need and deserve,” said Senator Shaheen. “As a result of their brave service, many Blue Water Navy veterans suffer from harrowing diseases because of their exposure to Agent Orange. Our veterans have fought and sacrificed enough – they shouldn’t have to fight for the necessary benefits they’ve earned. I appreciate the bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress to right that wrong, and I look forward to this legislation becoming law.”

“The brave sailors who courageously fought in Vietnam and were exposed to Agent Orange deserve the same benefits as all the other servicemembers who were also exposed to this toxic chemical,” Senator Hassan said. “We owe it to those who sacrificed so much in defense of our freedoms to ensure that they get the care that they need and deserve, and I urge the President to sign this bill into law without delay.”

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 of U.S. service members that served during the Vietnam War. In 1991, Congress passed a law requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide presumptive coverage to all Vietnam veterans with illnesses that the Institute of Medicine has directly linked to Agent Orange exposure, including those who were stationed on ships off the Vietnamese coast, also known as Blue Water Navy veterans. However, in 2002, the VA decided that it would only cover Veterans who could prove that they served “boots on the ground” in Vietnam. This exclusion prevented thousands of sailors from receiving benefits even though they had been exposed to Agent Orange while serving on U.S. Navy ships offshore.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled earlier this year in favor of Alfred Procopio, Jr., a Blue Water Navy veteran, in his lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs. Although it appears that the VA will not appeal this decision and will begin providing benefits to most Blue Water Navy veterans, passing the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would codify into law protection for these veterans. The bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would clarify the existing law so that Blue Water Navy veterans would be granted VA coverage equitable to those who are already covered.