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Ranking Member Walz Leads Bipartisan Letter Urging Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman To Advance Bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018

Oct 16, 2018
Press Release
The legislation, which would expand presumptive Agent Orange exposure status to Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans, passed the House unanimously (382-0) on June 25, 2018 but has yet to receive a committee vote in the Senate

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Tim Walz (D-MN) led 45 Members of Congress in sending a letter to Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA) urging him to bring H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018, to a vote in committee so that the legislation can be brought to the Senate floor as soon as possible.

The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would finally grant presumptive Agent Orange exposure status to U.S. service members who served off the coast of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. 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. This measure has received strong support from veterans’ organizations.

“For over 40 years, our nation has failed to uphold its moral obligation to help Blue Water Navy veterans receive the benefits and respect they deserve,” said Ranking Member Walz. “I was proud to see the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act pass the House in June, because it was the first time these veterans saw any real progress from their government. However, it’s extremely disappointing to see the legislation lose traction in the Senate, presumably because the Trump Administration has come out in strong opposition to the bill, not based on policy, but because it simply does not want to invest the money it would take to do right by these veterans. The sad reality is that every day there are fewer and fewer Blue Water Navy veterans. If this bill is not signed into law before the end of the year, then the bipartisan pay-for that took years to find will disappear and Congress will be back to square one. Now is the time to act. Now is the time to bring this critical legislation to a vote.”

 

The text of the letter is available below and online here:

 

The Honorable Johnny Isakson, Chairman

Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs

United States Senate

412 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

 

Dear Chairman Isakson:

We are writing to request that HR 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018 that passed the House on June 25, 2018 by a unanimous vote of 382-0, be cleared by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and brought to the Senate floor as soon as possible so that the 40-year wait for fair compensation by the nation’s Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans – many very sick and in pain -- might finally end. 

It is a very sad reality that every day of delay means there are fewer Blue Water Navy veterans who earned and deserved compensation and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) care for their illnesses.  In just a few months, as the House considered the bill this Congress, at one point the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reduced the cost of implementation of HR 299 from $1.2 Billion to $880 Million because the population of eligible veterans is dying.

As veterans’ advocates we have all heard from frustrated veterans who say it sometimes looks to them as if the Congress and the VA are denying benefits just waiting for them to die.  Unless Congress passes this bill, it will be hard to argue against that notion.

HR 299 passed the House unanimously after months of consideration and discussion.  It was a day many thought would never come.  Finding over a billion dollars in the Federal budget that could be redirected is not an easy task.  Many thought it was impossible.  Yet the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman, Dr. Phil Roe and the Ranking Minority Member Tim Walz built a coalition of support in Congress and together with the Veteran Service Organizations found a way.  It is his number one legislative priority, the Chairman said many times. 

HR 299 is an example of what we can accomplish when we work together in a bipartisan manner.  The VA did not support adding presumptions for Blue Water Navy veterans as it worked its way through the House.  VA will continue to object and try to find roadblocks.  It is the Congress’ job to say enough is enough.

We respectfully ask that the way be cleared for full Senate consideration.  

It appears as if exposure to toxins by American servicemembers in theatres of war will always be a reality.  As Members of Congress our task for the future will be to take the lessons learned from the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam so many decades ago, and find ways to forthrightly acknowledge the exposure, determine the service connection and then compensate servicemembers in far less than two generations.   When we do, we can dedicate this work to the Vietnam era veterans who died waiting for their recognition.

 

Sincerely,

 

Rep. Tim Walz            

Ranking Member

 

Mark Takano

Vice Ranking Member

 

Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA)   

           

Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT)

 

Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH)

 

Rep. Beto O’Rourke ((D-TX)

 

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY)

 

Rep. J. Luis Correa (D-CA)

 

Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA)

 

Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA)

 

Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV)

 

Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ)

 

Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-NY)

 

Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU)

 

Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX)

 

Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY)

 

Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC)

 

Rep. Mike Bishop (R-MI)

 

Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN)

 

Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA)

 

Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH)

 

Rep. Daniel Kildee (D-MI)

 

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA)

 

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ)

 

Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA)

 

Rep. Al Lawson (D-FL)

 

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA)

 

Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-MD)

 

Rep. James Langevin (D-RI)

 

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN)

 

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN)

 

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL)

 

Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT)

 

Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA)

 

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV)

 

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ)

 

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-NJ)

 

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH)

 

Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY)

 

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI)

 

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY)

 

Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI)

 

Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY)

 

Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA)

 

Rep. Donald Norcross (D-NJ)

 

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