Buchanan-Backed Bill to Help Vets Passes House
Restores Health Coverage for Thousands Exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam
WASHINGTON – The U.S. House has approved legislation co-sponsored by Congressman Vern Buchanan 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) would provide 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.
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 tied to Agent Orange.
“Passage of this is bill is long overdue,” Buchanan said. “Denying these veterans health coverage is a gross injustice that must fixed. Navy veterans fought and sacrificed just like their fellow soldiers who served on land in Vietnam.”
Veterans from the 16th congressional district are among those who have been 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 live up to that promise the VA cannot turn its back on Blue Water veterans.”
Buchanan also co-sponsored this legislation in the previous Congress and has called on the House Veterans Affairs Committee to pass this critical legislation and “step up for Blue Water veterans.” The bill passed the U.S. House in a bipartisan vote of 382 to 0 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.
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.