Senator Jon Tester to host public town hall in Bozeman

Tester Jon (D-MT)

U.S. SENATE — U.S. Senator Steve Daines today celebrated his bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act unanimously passing the U.S. Senate and heading to the President’s desk.

“Our Vietnam vets who served both on land and sea deserve equal care for their bravery in defense of our country,” Daines said. “I am happy to see my legislation pass. It is due time we get our Blue Water Vets the care their sacrifices demanded.” 

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed approximately 20 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam to remove jungle foliage. This toxic chemical had devastating health effects on millions serving in Vietnam.

In 1991, Congress passed a law requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide presumptive coverage to Vietnam veterans with illnesses that the Institute of Medicine has directly linked to Agent Orange exposure.

However, in 2002, the VA decided that it would only cover Veterans who could prove that they had orders for “boots on the ground” during the Vietnam War. This exclusion prevents thousands of sailors from receiving benefits even though they had significant Agent Orange exposure from drinking and bathing in contaminated water just offshore.  

Background: 

Senator Daines has long been an advocate on the issue since he came to Congress.

On April 17th, 2019 Daines renewed efforts to secure disability and health care benefits for the Blue Water Navy veterans.

On February 19th, 2019, Daines and Gillibrand wrote U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie urging him to ensure all of the blue water veterans have timely access to the care and benefits they have earned.

On December 11th, 2018, Daines joined bipartisan senators and veterans to call for Senate passage of the bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act.

On February 17th, 2017, Daines and Gillibrand reintroduced the bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act 

On May 18th, 2016, Daines joined U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and U.S. Representatives Chris Gibson (R-NY) and David Valadao (R-CA) to rally support for their legislation to ensure Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans are eligible to receive benefits linked to Agent Orange Exposure.

On February 25th, 2016, Daines urged the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to clarify their misguided decision against providing "Blue Water” Navy veterans with the disability and health care benefits that they deserve for diseases linked to Agent Orange exposure.

On February 8th, 2016, Daines called on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to immediately take up their legislation to ensure “Blue Water” Navy veterans are made eligible for service-connected disability Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits and health care as a result of Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War. 

On March 9th, 2015, Daines introduced legislation to ensure thousands of Navy veterans known as "Blue Water" vets from the Vietnam War exposed to the powerful toxin Agent Orange will be eligible to receive disability and health care benefits they have earned for diseases linked to Agent Orange exposure.


(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester’s bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act unanimously passed the U.S. Senate and now heads to the President’s desk for signature.

 For years, Tester has fought tirelessly in Congress to make sure Vietnam Veterans get the treatment and benefits they have earned. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act changes current law to guarantee that veterans who served off the shores of Vietnam and were exposed to toxins such as Agent Orange, can access treatment and receive benefits from the VA. Currently, only veterans who served within the borders of Vietnam can access health care and benefits related to their Agent Orange exposure.

 “Today’s victory was hard fought and hard won, by brave servicemembers who returned home from Vietnam only to find their country couldn’t give them the treatment and benefits they desperately needed and earned,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. “For so many veterans and their families living with the effects of exposure to Agent Orange, this legislation is long overdue – and it rights a wrong perpetrated by a government that ignored them for far too long. We are delivering today on our commitment to justice for the Blue Water Navy veterans in Montana and across the country who sacrificed to keep us safe and free.”

 Montana veterans applauded Senator Tester’s efforts:

 “To say I am pleased, is beyond words,” said Mike Shepard, a former U.S. Vietnam Army 1st Lieutenant from Kalispell. “I have personally worked on getting sailors and marines covered for years, and I am glad to see that it has finally come to fruition. These veterans have the same exact problems are those who were on the ground in Vietnam, and deserve the necessary VA coverage provided under this bill. Senator Tester has been a tremendous help in getting this done and deserves a huge thank you from the entire Veteran community.”

 “I am thankful that Senator Jon Tester’s bill will help combat veterans with service connected injuries, which includes Blue Water Navy,” said U.S. Vietnam Veteran Jim Clark from Helena.“He has continuously fought for veterans on a variety of other issues and successfully corrected this ‘wrong’ with the VA. This bill will address this issue for a great number of sailors who were aboard ship in Vietnam.”

 The bill is supported by the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Vietnam Veterans of America, Military Officers Association of America, Fleet Reserve Association, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Paralyzed Veterans of America, AMVETS, and Military Order of the Purple Heart.

 “Tonight’s historic Senate passage of H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, means that tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans who served in the waters offshore will soon be able to receive benefits for illnesses they suffered due to Agent Orange exposure,” said Joy I. Ilem, DAV National Legislative Director. “DAV is grateful for the leadership of Chairman Johnny Isakson and Ranking Member Jon Tester, Senate sponsors Kirsten Gillibrand and Steve Daines, and House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano and Ranking Member Phil Roe—for working in a bipartisan, bicameral manner to finally pass Blue Water Navy veterans legislation.”

 “We salute the entire 116th Congress for ensuring that taking care of veterans remains the most bipartisan and bicameral issue in Washington,” said VFW National Commander B.J. Lawrence. “We now urge the president to quickly sign the bill into law so that tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans can have their disability benefits restored, and well as an expansion of benefits to military dependents, veterans of the Korean DMZ, and those exposed to toxic hazards in Southwest Asia.”

 The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 will:

 •  Expand the presumption of Agent Orange exposure to veterans who served off the coast of Vietnam.

 •  Extend presumption of Agent Orange exposure to veterans who served in or near the Korean demilitarized zone.

 •  Provide benefits to children of Vietnam veterans who served in Thailand and were born with spina bifida

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