Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) have introduced legislation that would extend Veterans Affairs Department benefits to “blue water” Vietnam-era veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
Vietnam War veterans who served at sea are currently denied VA disability and health benefits for illnesses caused by Agent Orange. Exposure to the chemical can cause a range of diseases, including cancer.
The VA says that for an illness to be linked to Agent Orange exposure, a veteran must have “stepped foot on the land of Vietnam” or served in an inland waterway.
But, the senators bill would change that to allow veterans who served up to approximately 12 miles offshore to get VA health and disability benefits for illnesses that are tied to Agent Orange exposure.
Under the legislation, if a veteran served offshore and has a disease the VA associates with Agent Orange, then VA officials must presume that the veteran was exposed to the chemical.
“We owe it to the veterans who bravely served our country and have fallen victim to Agent Orange-related disease to enact this legislation that will provide the disability compensation and healthcare benefits they have earned,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “Agent Orange is a very difficult chapter in our nation’s history and is past due that we correct the errors of the past.”
For decades, the VA denied disability and health benefits for Vietnam veterans that claimed Agent Orange exposure. It wasn’t until 1991 that the VA began linking certain illnesses to the chemical.
Daines said the current law “has resulted in the prolonged suffering” of veterans.