The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017 (H.R. 299) is currently languishing in the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and as a result, vital funding of benefits that impacts the lives and livelihoods of veterans now hangs in the balance.
The fact that a funding bill, the Fiscal Year 2019 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (MilCon-VA) Appropriations Bill was completed with full bipartisan passage makes spending arguments on the Blue Water Navy legislation unacceptable.
This bill — which passed the House of Representatives and would provide medical coverage to sailors who were exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War — appears to have some skeptics on the committee.
They seem swayed by the Department of Veterans Affairs' thin arguments that because record-keeping wasn’t good during the Vietnam War there’s no reason to provide veterans with this necessary treatment.
Nearly 90,000 veterans would be covered by H.R. 299, according to Military Times. That’s tens of thousands of veterans who were once the picture of health who now find themselves battling cancer as well as nerve, digestive, skin, and respiratory disorders. To add insult to injury, because the VA and Congress refuse to act, they’re getting stuck with paying the bill.
Four former VA leaders are urging lawmakers to reject the plan, while former VA Secretary David Shulkin is arguing for it.
Instead of providing adequate care to our veterans who have fought and suffered for their country, government officials who have the power to provide them with care are needlessly debating a settled issue and placing the onus on veterans to prove that they were harmed. America owes our veterans a debt, and we are failing in our duty to pay that debt.
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and VA need to stop putting the burden of proof on our veterans. The people who are questioning what veterans went through weren’t there on the ships in Vietnam. They weren’t drinking and brushing their teeth and bathing in water tainted by this terrible chemical.
Looking toward the future, the Department of Defense must do its part as well. Poor record-keeping did our veterans a disservice in Vietnam, and the Pentagon should conduct an audit to ensure that their record-keeping today is accurate — particularly when they know they are sending troops into areas affected by harmful chemicals.
Even though the VA is dragging their heels on this critical issue, Congress can take care of those thousands of veterans now. All that’s required is for the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs to put the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017 up for a vote.
H.R. 299, the change in policy for Blue Water Navy Vietnam veteran care, has bipartisan support for our Navy veterans and ensures they receive the full extent of care they so deserve.
Our legislators need to stop playing politics with funding bills, stop doubting veterans and put these bills to a vote immediately.
Retired Navy Rear Adm. Christopher W. Cole is the national executive director of the Association of the United States Navy. His views do not necessarily represent those of the Department of Defense or Navy Times.