VSO Letter Supporting HR 299, Bluewater Navy Legislation

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The Honorable Mark Takano, Chairman
House Veterans’ Affairs Committee
335 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Phil Roe, Ranking Member
House Veterans’ Affairs Committee
333 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Takano and Ranking Member Dr. Roe:

As leaders of major veterans’ organizations, and on behalf of our more than 5 million combined members, we write to offer our strongest support for H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act and to encourage all Members of Congress to vote to approve this legislation.

As you know, during the 115th Congress, Blue Water Navy legislation passed the House by a vote of 382 to 0; however, the bill was not successful in the Senate. We thank you both for re-introducing Blue Water Navy veteran legislation in the 116th Congress and we are grateful that with your leadership H.R. 299 was unanimously reported out of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on May 8, 2019.

When VA implemented the Agent Orange Act of 1991, it determined that veterans who received the Vietnam Service Medal, to include those who served in the waters offshore, were exposed to Agent Orange. In 1993, a VA General Counsel opinion held that veterans with service in the waters offshore were exposed to Agent Orange. However, in 1997, VA General Counsel opined that the 1996 Veterans Benefits Improvements Act determined only veterans who physically served in Vietnam were exposed to Agent Orange, although that was not stated in the law.

To clarify, from 1991 to 1997 veterans with service in the waters offshore of Vietnam were considered to have been exposed to Agent Orange, as Congress intended. The 1997 decision to exclude Blue Water Navy veterans was not based on medical or scientific evidence, law, or Congressional intent; it was based on a misinterpretation.

On January 29th, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Procopio v. Wilkie, overruled VA’s previous misinterpretations and determined that service in the Republic of Vietnam includes the territorial waters within 12 nautical miles of the baseline.

H.R. 299 would fully protect Procopio’s holdings that service in the Republic of Vietnam incudes the territorial waters. The bill would use the same grid coordinates in the legislation approved by the House last year, which would extend beyond 12 nautical miles in some locations, particularly the Mekong Delta.

H.R. 299 will also expand benefits for Korean DMZ veterans who suffer from diseases and illnesses directly linked to Agent Orange. The bill would provide an earlier date of exposure for Vietnam Era veterans who served on the DMZ.

This legislation would also expand coverage for those children suffering from spina bifida because of their parents’ exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Thailand during the Vietnam War. This change would provide these children benefits on par with those received by children of Vietnam veterans.

For decades, tens of thousands of veterans, their families, and survivors have been denied their earned benefits. While it is long past due, it is time that we correct the injustice done to Blue Water Navy veterans and provide protection of the Procopio decision by passing H.R. 299.

We thank you for your unwavering commitment and dedication to Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans. We look forward to the day when we will finally pay a long overdue debt to tens of thousands of Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans, their families and survivors.

Respectfully,