Congressman Vern Buchanan

Representing the 16th District of Florida

Buchanan Applauds House for Standing With Vietnam Vets

May 15, 2019
Press Release
Thousands Denied Coverage for Agent Orange Exposure. Congressman Urges Senate to Swiftly Pass Bill Restoring Health Benefits

WASHINGTON – Rep. Vern Buchanan applauded passage Tuesday of bipartisan legislation he co-sponsored to restore health coverage for 90,000 Navy veterans who were potentially exposed to the toxic chemical Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. 

The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (H.R. 299) provides VA health benefits for Navy veterans who served on ships and ports off the coast of Vietnam during the war. 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 legislation heads to the Senate for consideration.

Exposure to the toxic herbicide has been linked to 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. Currently, only veterans who served on land in Vietnam are eligible for benefits for illnesses related to Agent Orange. 

“Passage of this legislation is long overdue,” Buchanan said. “The continued denial of these veterans health coverage is a gross injustice that must be fixed. Navy veterans fought and sacrificed at sea just as their fellow soldiers did on land in Vietnam.”

House passage follows a federal court decision in January, which stated that veterans who served offshore on ships during the Vietnam War should be eligible for Agent Orange benefits. However, many have urged passage of this bill as it remains unclear how the VA will interpret the recent court ruling and in order to codify this change into law.

Veterans from Florida’s 16th congressional district are among those who were exposed to Agent Orange-contaminated water. According to Ronald Babcock, a Lakewood Ranch resident and Vietnam veteran, “We drank it, we bathed in it, we cooked in it and we climbed all over the planes that flew through it.” 
 
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. 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 was created to care for veterans and promises ‘to care for him who shall have borne the battle,” Buchanan said. “In order to honor that promise, the VA cannot turn its back on Blue Water veterans.”

Buchanan co-sponsored this legislation in previous sessions of Congress and has called on the House Veterans Affairs Committee to pass this critical bill and “step up for Blue Water veterans.” A similar version of the bill was passed by the House last year with unanimous support, but failed to pass the Senate in the final days of the 115th Congress.

The legislation is backed 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 and the Fleet Reserve Association.

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