Signed into Law: The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act

Signed into Law: The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act

Patricia Kime, writer for Military.com, reported early last Wednesday that after decades of negotiations, President Donald Trump signed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act into law late Tuesday.

The sailors, Marines and other service personnel who served off the coast of the Republic of Vietnam have been fighting for the passing of H.R. 299 for decades. Before this legislation, the specific diseases connected to Agent Orange exposure exposure were recognized only for ground troops. This new law extends that recognition to all those who served off of the coast of the Republic of Vietnam and Cambodia between January 1962 and May 1975.

This change in legislation stands to benefit an estimated 90,000 veterans who were exposed to the chemical herbicide agent produced by Monsanto in the 1960’s. The medical conditions of these veterans who served off the coastline will now receive the same considerations as ground troops and will have their disability compensation fast-tracked. Agent Orange-associated illnesses range from respiratory cancers to Parkinson’s, heart disease and certain types of diabetes. 

Veterans who have previously had claims denied are now eligible to resubmit along with those who were deployed in the Korean Demilitarized Zone from 9/1/67-8/31/71. An additional group covered by this new legislation is the children of veterans who served in Thailand from 1/62-5/75 who were born with spina bifida. 

Not everyone is celebrating this new legislation. The Military-Veterans Advocacy group has some significant concerns about the wording of H.R. 299. The bill covers Blue Water veterans that were up to 12 miles off the shores of Vietnam and Cambodia. The concern of the Military-Veterans Advocacy group is for the Blue Water veterans who are outside of this perimeter of the predetermined area but still within the South China sea and subject to the waters and chemical runoff of the heavily impacted Mekong River. Military-Veterans Advocacy has previously filed a lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of the Blue Water veterans over the denial of benefits. 

Rep. Mark Takano, (Democrat, CA) is one of the original drafters of the legislation. He also chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Takano has been quoted as saying that Congress has now “righted a terrible injustice.”

“We can finally tell the tens of thousands of veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War but wrongly denied benefits that justice is finally coming.” 

While the signing of the legislation should absolutely be viewed as a victory for all Blue Water veterans, this win does not mean the end of the war. Provisions are now in place for tens of thousands of additional veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange. However, the work is not complete until every benefit is available to every exposed veteran, no questions asked.  

With additional benefits come additional costs. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that these changes could cost as much as $1.1 billion over 10 years but the Department of Veterans Affairs has a much higher estimate of $5.5 billion. Non-disabled veterans can expect additional fees on VA-supported home loans (less than a percentage point).