June 25th, 2018 – By a vote of 382 to 0, the House approved a bill that extends disability benefits for approximately 90,000 “blue water” veterans who were exposed to dangerous & toxic chemicals during the Vietnam War, but were denied any benefits due to their location during the war.
U.S. Military members who were deployed in Vietnam during the war, either on the ground or on inland waterways, are presumed to have been in contact with or near Agent Orange and similar hazardous chemicals. These veterans are provided with a special status that accelerates the process when they file for disability benefits claims.
The term “blue water” is applied to veterans who served onboard ships that were located just off the coast of Vietnam. These veterans are required to prove direct exposure to Agent Orange and other toxic substances for their illnesses to be classified as service-connected. Due to the fact that scientific evidence from these ships was never collected, that’s impossible in most cases.
On Monday, bill sponsor Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., called the House vote long overdue. The bill has now moved on to the upper chamber, where Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., has said that the issue is a top priority for the rest of the year.
The initial dilemma with the bill was that it did not provide for the estimated $1.1 billion cost in additional disability benefits for injured veterans. Lawmakers were able to find a solution by applying a fee on VA-backed home loans. The $350 fee will be assessed over a 10 year period (approximately $35 a year) to cover the cost of the new coverage.
The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017 (H.R. 299) will also extend presumptive exposure status to disabled veterans who served on the Korean Peninsula demilitarized zone from September 1967 through August 1971.
If you would like to access the bill in its entirety, you can do so here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/299