Vietnam veterans who served in “blue waters” off the coast of Vietnam have for years pressured the federal government to provide them with the same benefits other Vietnam veterans receive as a result of exposure to Agent Orange. The Agent Orange Act of 1991 excluded Blue Water veterans from these benefits, despite the veterans’ contention that they were exposed to the herbicide as a result of water used aboard ship for laundry, cooking, etc. Exposure to the herbicide has been linked to cancer, heart disease, respiratory problems and neurological disorders. You can read my prior post on this topic here.
Unfortunately, Congress recently delivered another political setback for Blue Water veterans. The Senate just killed a measure passed 382-0 by the House, that would have provided 90,000 Blue Water veterans with Agent Orange medical benefits. Senators Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) blocked the vote, noting the V.A.’s concerns about the cost. Originally thought to cost $1.1 billion over ten years when the House passed the measure, the V.A. more recently projected the cost at closer to $5.5 billion. The V.A. has also continued to express doubt about the link between blue water service and Agent Orange-related maladies. Both senators indicated that wanted to wait to vote on the issue after an additional scientific study is available on the subject. The study is due out in 2019.
Advocates of the measure in Congress and veterans’ groups were quick to condemn the Senate’s lack of action. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee ranking member Tim Walz, (D- Minn) accused Senate opponents of hypocrisy, given the major tax cut package passed by the Republican-controlled Congress. Senator John Tester (D-Wyoming) said “this 11th hour attempt to block the bill is a thumb in the eye to millions of veterans and service members.” And the national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, B.J. Lawrence, claims that obstruction of the bill “forsakes our nation’s promise to take care of those who were injured or ill due to military service.” House Representative Mark Takano (D-CA) suggested the president could tweet out his support for the Senate bill and call out the two senators holding up the vote, but the tweet never came.
Supporters of the measure have vowed to reintroduce the legislation again next year.