Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Steve Daines (R-MT) introduced a measure March 9 that would direct the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide disability and health care benefits to Vietnam War veterans harmed by Agent Orange from aircraft carriers, destroyers and other Navy vessels.
In 1991, Congress passed the Agent Orange Act, creating a presumption that veterans are eligible for benefits if they develop certain illnesses which the Institute of Medicine determines are the result of exposure to Agent Orange.
The VA determined in 2002, however, that these benefits are only for veterans who provided “boots on the ground” during the conflict.
Under the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015, the same presumption would apply if they served in the “territorial seas” of Vietnam, defined as approximately 12 miles offshore of the country.
“Hundreds of Thousands of our veterans are being denied benefits they need and deserve because of a technicality in the law,” Sen. Gillibrand said in a news release. “We owe it to the veterans who bravely served our country and have fallen victim to Agent Orange-related disease to enact this legislation that will provide the disability compensation and healthcare benefits they have earned.
“Agent Orange is a very difficult chapter in our nation’s history and is past due that we correct the errors of the past.”
In 2011, the year the bill was first introduced, the Institute of Medicine found that thousands of veterans likely came into contact with Agent Orange as a result of the water distillation process used in the Navy ships and through the air, according to the news release.
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed the country with approximately 20 million gallons of Agent Orange.
The herbicide contained doxin, a toxic chemical that has since been linked to cancer, liver dysfunction, neurological dysfunction, psychiatric problems, joint pain, muscle spasms, chronic fatigue and genetic damage, among other impairments.
Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY) introduced a similar bill in the House of Representatives on February 13, with the support of 131 cosponsors.
The introduction of the bill came the same week that the VA again delayed making a decision on whether disability benefits should be available to Air Force reservists who may have been exposed to Agent Orange when flying the C-123 aircraft, which was used to spray the herbicide, according to the Stars and Stripes.
In January, the Institute of Medicine released a report finding that veterans “quite likely experienced non-trivial increases in their risks of adverse health outcomes” due to Agent Orange exposure in the aircrafts.