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Congresswoman Elise Stefanik

Representing the 21st District of New York

Stefanik, Colleagues Urge House Leadership to Pass Vietnam Veterans Legislation

January 4, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON – On December 22, 2017, U.S. Congressman David G. Valadao (CA-21), Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (NY-21) and a bipartisan group of their colleagues sent a letter to Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan urging the House of Representatives to pass H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act as soon as possible.

In January, Congressman Valadao introduced H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act to grant presumptive Agent Orange exposure status to U.S. service members who served in the territorial seas of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Congresswoman Stefanik is an original cosponsor of this legislation. This would enable eligible veterans to receive expedited consideration for Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits if they suffer from any of the diseases the U.S. Government has linked to Agent Orange.

"Our district is home to more veterans than any district in New York State, and our offices know firsthand the frustrations that the Blue Water Vets are facing trying to get the benefits they need and deserve,” said Congresswoman Stefanik. “Our brave veterans served heroically and we should never leave them behind. This legislation would ensure our Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans receive the benefits they are entitled to, and I urge Speaker Ryan and House Leadership to bring this bill up for a vote without delay.”

Congressman David G. Valadao stated, “I am proud of the work that Congress has achieved under Speaker Ryan’s leadership and know he is a steadfast champion of veterans throughout our country. While I understand it is time to get our fiscal house in order, we must not balance our budget on the backs of America’s heroes." He continued, "I respectfully urge the Speaker to bring this legislation to the Floor so that we may provide this population of veterans the benefits and healthcare they have earned before it is too late."

Currently, H.R. 299 has been cosponsored by 321 Members of Congress, nearly three fourths of the U.S. House of Representatives, and has received the support of almost every single veteran’s service organization.

The complete text of the letter can be found here.

Background

During the Vietnam War, more than 20 million gallons of the herbicide “Agent Orange” were sprayed to remove jungle foliage. A toxic chemical in the herbicide has since been linked to devastating health effects, including non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL), various cancers, Type II Diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease.

The Agent Orange Act of 1991 (AOA) empowered the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to declare certain illnesses “presumptive” to exposure to Agent Orange and enabled veterans to receive disability compensation for these related conditions.

However, in 2002, the VA stopped giving benefits to blue water veterans and limited the scope of the AOA to only those veterans who could provide proof of “boots on the ground” in Vietnam. As a result, veterans who served in the waters off of the Vietnamese coast or in bays and harbors were required to file individual claims to restore their benefits, which have then been decided on a case-by-case basis.

Key Provisions:

•           This bill restores the presumptive coverage for those who served in the territorial seas of Vietnam that existed prior to 2002 and lifts the burden from the individual veteran to prove direct exposure to Agent Orange.

•           The presumption currently exists for veterans who served on land and inland waterways, and therefore the bill places Navy personnel on the same playing field as those who served in country.

•           The legislation would also reduce backlogged VA claims for veterans who are suffering from diseases the U.S. government has linked to Agent Orange, therefore reducing the overall VA backlog.

More information about H.R. 299, including a summary of the legislation and bill text, can be found here.

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