Stefanik: Past time to pass Navy Vietnam Vets Act
WASHINGTON, D.C. â" Congresswoman Elise Stefanik is among a bipartisan group urging Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to bring a bill to the floor that would allow more Vietnam vets to access benefits for Agent Orange-related illnesses.
Congressman David G. Valadao (CA-21) introduced H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, last January to grant presumptive Agent Orange exposure status to U.S. service members who served in the territorial seas of Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
Stefanik is an original cosponsor of the legislation, which w ould enable eligible veterans to receive expedited consideration for Veterans Affairs 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,â Stefanik said in a statement.
âOur 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.â
Currently, H.R. 299 has been cosponsored by 321 Members of Congress, nearly three quarters of the U.S. House of Representatives, and has received the support of almost every single veteranâs service organization.
âI am proud of the work that Congress has achieved under Speaker Ryanâs leadership and know he is a steadfast champion of veterans throughout our country," Valadao said in a statement.
"While I understand it is time to get our fiscal house in order, we must not balance our budget on the backs of Americaâs heroes."
During the Vietnam War, more than 20 million gallons of the herbicide âAgent Orangeâ were sprayed to remove jungle foliage.
A toxic chemical in the herbicide has since been linked to devastating health effects, including non-Hodgkinâs lymphoma, various cancers, type II diabetes, and Parkinsonâs disease.
The Agent Orange Act of 1991 empowered the secretary of Veterans Affairs to declare certain illnesses âpresumptiveâ to exposure to Agent Orange and enabled veterans to receive disability compensation for these related conditions.
However, in 2002, the VA stopped giving be nefits to blue water veterans and limited the scope of the Agent Orange Act to only those veterans who could provide proof of âboots on the groundâ in Vietnam.
As a result, veterans who served in the waters off of the Vietnamese coast or in bays and harbors are required to file individual claims to restore their benefits, which are then decided on a case-by-case basis.
SAME PLAYING FIELD
Key provisions of H.R. 299 are:
â¢ Restoration of the presumptive coverage for those who served in the territorial seas of Vietnam that existed prior to 2002 and lifting of the burden from the individual veteran to prove direct exposure to Agent Orange.
â¢ Placing Navy personnel on the same playing field as those who served in-country, as the presumption currently exists only for veterans who served on land and inland waterways.
â¢ Reduction of 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.
Learn more about H.R. 299 at: https://tinyurl.com/y7fc853l.