It has been a long time coming, but “Blue Water” veterans may soon be able to receive benefits for illness or disability that they incurred due to Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam era. Although it took months of negotiations with their counterparts in the Senate, members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee voted unanimously on May 8 to forward a bill to the full House that will make as many as 90,000 sea veterans who are suffering Agent Orange-related ailments eligible for benefits. The Department of Veterans Affairs benefits could include both disability pay and health care for service-connected disability claims.

So-called Blue Water vets are Navy veterans who served during the lengthy Vietnam conflict. However, Congress and the VA have refused for decades to recognize that the illnesses of thousands of afflicted sea veterans are related to Agent Orange and other herbicides used on the jungles and upland forests of Southeast Asia during the war. Afflicted vets, whose illnesses resemble those of personnel who patrolled inland waters or were on the ground during the war, have been fighting for years to have their maladies recognized.

The Blue Water veterans contend that clouds of toxic herbicides could have reached ships patrolling in Southeast Asian waters during the war or could also have contaminated seawater that was desalinated and then used by ships’ crews for consumption and hygiene. Meanwhile, the VA has recognized 14 ailments associated with Agent Orange for which ground troops and inland patrol crews can receive benefits. A single day of presumed exposure can be enough for such veterans to qualify for benefits.

The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) is predicting that the bill will be signed into law during 2018. By slightly raising the funding fees for VA-backed home loans – at a cost of less than $3 per month for non-disabled borrowers – the program can be funded without violating House budget rules. The bill (HR 299) is entitled the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017.

Source: Military.com, “Ailing ‘Blue Water’ Vets of Vietnam Near to Gaining VA Benefits,” Tom Philpott, May 10, 2018