House Passes Luria Sponsored Bill to Extend Agent Orange Exposure Benefits to Navy Vets

May 16, 2019 by Dan McCue

The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation Tuesday co-sponsored by Representative Elaine Luria to extend disability benefits to Vietnam-era Navy veterans who have fought for years to prove they were exposed to the chemical herbicide Agent Orange.

Luria, a member of the New Democrat Coalition, is herself a Navy veteran who spent her entire career on combat ships and ultimately reached the rank of commander.

“I’m thankful to the House of Representatives for stepping up to the plate and fulfilling our responsibility to our veterans and their service to America,” she said after the 410-0 vote.

The congresswoman, who represents Virginia’s 2nd congressional district, went on to say “Our Senate colleagues should do the same so we can get this legislation to the White House and pass it into law.”

The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 would extend the presumption of exposure for service connection for diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange to US Navy veterans who served offshore of the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War and veterans who served in or near the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

In addition to disability compensation, Blue Water Navy veterans may be eligible for healthcare if they develop a disease linked to herbicide exposure. The bill also extends eligibility for U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs benefits to certain children with spina bifida who were born to veterans who served in Thailand and were exposed to Agent Orange.

In January, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned the VA’s interpretation of the Agent Orange Act of 1991.

The case was Procopio v. Wilkie, and in its ruling the Federal Circuit said the “Republic of Vietnam” included Vietnam’s territorial seas.

While the court’s ruling immediately made some Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans eligible for the presumption of service-connection for Agent Orange exposure, it did not define territorial seas.

The bill that passed the House fully defines Vietnam’s offshore waters – which encompass the territorial seas – to ensure that all Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans who were potentially exposed to Agent Orange during their service are eligible for a presumption of service-connection by the VA for such exposure.

The bill closely mirrors the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017, which passed the House during the 115th Congress by a vote of 382 – 0.

In a joint statement, Representatives Mark Takano, D-Calif., and Phil Roe, R-Tenn., the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, urged the Senate to move quickly in passing the bill.

“For more than forty years, tens of thousands of veterans, their families, and survivors have been denied the benefits they earned after exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War,” said Takano, who was the bill’s lead sponsor. “But by passing this bill tonight, we came together to right a terrible injustice. It has been a long, hard fought battle, but thanks to bipartisan efforts led by Ranking Member Dr. Phil Roe and myself, our Veteran Service Organizations, and countless veteran voices and family members, we have done our part to finally get justice for these veterans.

“I will continue to work with my Senate colleagues to ensure we can finally make this right for our Blue Water Navy veterans and ask Senate Leader Mitch McConnell to bring this bill to the floor swiftly — these veterans have waited long enough, he said.

Representative Roe also believes the bill will ensure that our Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans receive the benefits they deserve and that are “long overdue.”

“Last Congress, while I was chairman of the committee, the House unanimously passed nearly identical legislation,” Roe said. “Unfortunately, despite the steadfast efforts of then Chairman [John] Isakson, R-Ga., and Ranking Member [Representative Jon] Tester, that bill stalled in the Senate.

“I want to thank Chairman Takano for reintroducing this bill and working with me to ensure it remains a priority. I look forward to continuing our efforts to advocate for this bill with our Senate colleagues and, ultimately, send it to President Trump’s desk so that we can finally deliver on the promises made to these well-deserving veterans,” Roe said.

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