Press Conference on Blue Water Navy Legislation
On behalf of our 1 million members and the auxiliary, DAV is deeply disappointed that the bipartisan efforts of Senators Gillibrand, Daines, Isakson and Tester – supported by the vast majority of their colleagues—to finally pass the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act were blocked last night by a single Senator.
Unfortunately, as a result of the opposition from Senator Enzi of Wyoming, as well as Senator Lee of Utah, tens of thousands of aging, ill and dying Vietnam veterans must continue waiting to receive the recognition, benefits and care that they have rightfully earned through their honorable service.
Like all 2.7 million men and women who served in Vietnam, “Blue Water Navy” veterans answered the call of their nation, put themselves in harm’s way, and tragically many of them became sick or died from cancers and other illnesses caused by their exposure to Agent Orange.
So when the Agent Orange Act of 1991 was passed, all 2.7 million veterans who served in Vietnam – including ALL who served off the shores of Vietnam – were presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange based on receipt of the Vietnam Service Medal.
And this law was based on sound scientific evidence.
For example, in 1990, the Centers for Disease Control found that Vietnam veterans who served on ships were MORE likely to develop Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – which is linked to Agent Orange – than veterans who served on land.
Based on this and other science, as well as longstanding legal history, VA defined “service in Vietnam” to include, “service in the waters offshore”.
That was Congress’ clear intention when it passed the law and that’s how it was implemented by VA.
However, in 2002, based on an erroneous review of unrelated law, VA suddenly added a new requirement that a veteran must have actually put “boots on the ground” to get the benefits of the Agent Orange presumption.
This change ignored the evidence that Agent Orange was heavily used on and near the coast, drifted offshore and could also be ingested through the water on ships.
So contrary to what Senators Enzi and Lee – and the VA – have implied, VA’s decision to exclude Blue Water Navy Veterans was not based on scientific evidence.
In 2008, the National Academy of Medicine found that:
“Given the available evidence, the committee recommends that members of the Blue Water Navy should NOT be excluded from the set of Vietnam-era veterans with presumed herbicide exposure.”
And in their most recent 2016 report, the National Academy again found that there is NO scientific basis to exclude Blue Water Navy veterans based solely on the fact that their service was in the waters offshore.
VA’s decision to take away the presumption for Blue Water Navy veterans was a mistake when it was made in 2002 and it is long past the time for Congress to correct this grave error before it is too late for the Vietnam generation.
We call on Senators Enzi and Lee, and any other Senators who might oppose this legislation, to listen to the overwhelming majority of their colleagues in the Senate, together with the unanimous bipartisan support in the House, and finally do the right thing for the remaining Blue Water Navy veterans who have served and suffered.
The time to take action is now, before the Vietnam generation is gone.