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Courtney Presses Senate Veterans Affairs Committee

Courtney Urges Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to Pass Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans

(Washington, DC) – Today, Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) released a letter signed by 45 members of the House of Representative to Senator Johnny Isakson, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, urging the committee to pass the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (H.R. 299), clearing the path for the bill to be considered on the Senate floor before the end of the year. Rep. Courtney is the Democratic co-lead on the bill with Representative David Valadao (CA-21).

“We are as close as we have ever come to passing a critical piece of legislation that means so much to many veterans in our district,” said Courtney. “Through months of hard work and deliberation, the House Veterans Affairs Committee, under the leadership of Ranking Member Walz, negotiated a bill which will provide the care and compensation our Blue Water Navy veterans deserve and pay for it in a responsible way. That is why this bill passed the House by a unanimous bipartisan vote of 382-0 earlier this summer.

“But the bill has not yet passed the Senate and time is running out to do so before the end of the 115th Congress. Now that Chairman Isakson’s committee has had the opportunity to consider the bill in two separate hearings, it is time to act. This letter requests that the committee pass the bill as soon as possible so that it can continue toward a vote before the full Senate, where I am confident this bipartisan legislation will receive as broad support as it did in the House. Our Blue Water Navy Veterans have waited too long to receive the care they deserve. The time to act is now.”

Rep. Timothy J. Walz (MN-01), ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said, “As one of the four members who introduced the first Blue Water Navy Act back in 2011, I was extremely proud to see this legislation pass the House in June. However, I find it extremely disappointing to see this overdue legislation flounder in the Senate. Blue Water Navy veterans have waited over 4 decades to receive the benefits they deserve. We owe it to them to get this over the finish line. I urge Chairman Isakson to bring this bipartisan bill to a vote without delay, so the Senate can pass it before the year is done. There is no time to wait.”

The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act grants a presumptive service connection to Vietnam-era Blue Water Navy veterans who suffer from diseases they acquired due to their service in proximity to Agent Orange. Specifically, the bill enables veterans who served in the territorial seas of Vietnam during the Vietnam War to receive expedited consideration for Veteran’s Affairs (VA) benefits if they suffer from any of the diseases the U.S. Government has linked to Agent Orange.

The text of the letter is available below and online here:

The Honorable Johnny Isakson, Chairman

Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs

United States Senate

412 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Isakson:

We are writing to request that HR 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018 that passed the House on June 25, 2018 by a unanimous vote of 382-0, be cleared by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and brought to the Senate floor as soon as possible so that the 40-year wait for fair compensation by the nation’s Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans – many very sick and in pain — might finally end.

It is a very sad reality that every day of delay means there are fewer Blue Water Navy veterans who earned and deserved compensation and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) care for their illnesses. In just a few months, as the House considered the bill this Congress, at one point the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reduced the cost of implementation of HR 299 from $1.2 Billion to $880 Million because the population of eligible veterans is dying.

As veterans’ advocates we have all heard from frustrated veterans who say it sometimes looks to them as if the Congress and the VA are denying benefits just waiting for them to die. Unless Congress passes this bill, it will be hard to argue against that notion.

HR 299 passed the House unanimously after months of consideration and discussion. It was a day many thought would never come. Finding over a billion dollars in the Federal budget that could be redirected is not an easy task. Many thought it was impossible. Yet the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman, Dr. Phil Roe and the Ranking Minority Member Tim Walz built a coalition of support in Congress and together with the Veteran Service Organizations found a way. It is his number one legislative priority, the Chairman said many times.

HR 299 is an example of what we can accomplish when we work together in a bipartisan manner. The VA did not support adding presumptions for Blue Water Navy veterans as it worked its way through the House. VA will continue to object and try to find roadblocks. It is the Congress’ job to say enough is enough.

We respectfully ask that the way be cleared for full Senate consideration.

It appears as if exposure to toxins by American servicemembers in theatres of war will always be a reality. As Members of Congress our task for the future will be to take the lessons learned from the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam so many decades ago, and find ways to forthrightly acknowledge the exposure, determine the service connection and then compensate servicemembers in far less than two generations. When we do, we can dedicate this work to the Vietnam era veterans who died waiting for their recognition.

Sincerely,

Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT)

Rep. Tim Walz

Ranking Member, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

Mark Takano

Vice Ranking Member, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA)

Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH)

Rep. Beto O’Rourke ((D-TX)

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY)

Rep. J. Luis Correa (D-CA)

Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA)

Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA)

Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV)

Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ)

Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-NY)

Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU)

Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX)

Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY)

Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC)

Rep. Mike Bishop (R-MI)

Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN)

Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA)

Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH)

Rep. Daniel Kildee (D-MI)

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA)

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ)

Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA)

Rep. Al Lawson (D-FL)

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA)

Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D-MD)

Rep. James Langevin (D-RI)

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN)

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN)

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL)

Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA)

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV)

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ)

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-NJ)

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH)

Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY)

Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-CT)

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI)

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY)

Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI)

Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY)

Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA)

Rep. Donald Norcross (D-NJ)

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