Democratic Senator Kristin Gillibrand sponsored a Senate bill, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017, to provide disability benefits to United States Navy Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives in June of 2018 by a unanimous vote: 382-0. The Senate version has been co-sponsored by 38 Democratic Senators and 14 Republican Senators, enough for a majority.
If the bill passes the Senate, it will head to President Trump’s desk to be signed into law.
The bill has drawn strong support from every veteran’s organization in the country, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who urged passage:
The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States is calling for the U.S. Senate to finally pass H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018, which would end the injustice of denying Vietnam, Korean DMZ and Thailand veterans who suffer from life-threatening health conditions related to exposure to Agent Orange the care and benefits they deserve. The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 299 earlier this year by a unanimous vote, but the bill has been stuck in the Senate. The VFW national commander is urging all senators to support its immediate passage.
“Agent Orange made Vietnam veterans sick,” said VFW National Commander B.J. Lawrence, whose 1.6 million-member organization supports H.R. 299, which would restore VA benefits to some 90,000 so-called Blue Water Navy veterans who had their disability eligibility taken away in 2002 after regulatory changes. It would also require the VA to make whole veterans who were previously denied benefits.
The legislation would also help other veterans and their families who suffer from conditions related to toxic exposures. Veterans exposed to Agent Orange while serving along the Korean DMZ will have an earlier start date to encompass the timeframe when various defoliants were tested. The current start date of April 1, 1968, would be backed up seven months to Sept. 1, 1967. In addition, benefits would be expanded to include children born with spina bifida due to a parent’s exposure in Thailand. Coverage for this condition already exists for the children of Vietnam and Korean DMZ veterans. The new law would also require the VA to report on research being conducted on a broad range of conditions possibly related to service in Southwest Asia, which is important for future legislative efforts to create a list of presumptive conditions for veterans seeking VA health care and benefits.
“H.R. 299 is about taking care of forgotten veterans who were exposed to toxic substances, about taking care of their children who sadly inherited a toxic legacy, and about ensuring that new veterans won’t be forced to wait a half century or longer before our government deems there is sufficient evidence to confirm that their illnesses are service-connected,” said Lawrence. “Let’s get this bill passed!”
Unfortunately, the bill has been blocked by a Republican Senator, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, due to what he apparently sees as a cost issue:
A bill that would extend Agent Orange benefits to thousands of ailing U.S. Navy veterans hit a last-second snag in the U.S. Senate.
The so-called “Blue Water Navy Bill” died in the U.S. Senate when Sen. Mike Enzi, a Wyoming Republican, objected, expressing concerns about the bill’s cost, according to Stars and Stripes.
The bill would make tens of thousands ailing veterans eligible for disability compensation and health care from the VA.
Those veterans served on ships that patrolled territorial waters off the Vietnam coast during the war and were exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides.
This is a reminder that when Republican politicians say they support the military, what they really mean is that they support defense contractor corporations, not the actual members of the military.
Just a couple months ago, Mike Enzi voted in favor of $717 billion in national defense spending, for one year. Mike Enzi wasn’t worried about that cost.
The estimated cost of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act is $7 billion over 10 years. Mike Enzi thinks that is too much.
Backers of the bill have now called on Donald Trump to use his bully pulpit to persuade Mike Enzi to stop blocking the bill:
Using the last arrow in their quiver, veteran groups and service organizations urged President Donald Trump on Wednesday to use his personal influence with two Republican senators to persuade them to allow a vote on the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (HR 299) before the 115th Congress expires next week.
In a joint letter hand-delivered to the White House, seven groups representing a combined five million veterans asked Trump to issue “a public statement of support for the legislation, indicating that you would sign this bill.”
They predicted this “could help to persuade” Sens. Mike Enzi, of Wyoming, and Mike Lee, of Utah, to drop their opposition and allow a fast-track “unanimous consent” vote, which they predicted “would receive overwhelming support.”
Enzi on Monday evening blocked a first attempt for a unanimous consent vote on the bill made on a motion from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, endorsed the motion, but Enzi used authority that every individual senator has to block such votes.
Within six minutes of Gillibrand filing her motion, Isakson delivered his supportive pitch and Enzi blocked the vote.
However, Trump’s vocal support for the bill seems unlikely. The Trump administration has been busy lobbying against the bill:
Passed by the House unanimously in June, the Blue Water Navy bill stalled for months in the Senate, in part because, by August, the Department of Veterans Affairs under new Secretary Robert Wilkie had begun attacking it vigorously with the encouragement of the veteran policy officials in the Trump White House.
Donald Trump hasn’t exactly shown that he cares much for veterans, either, as he has continued to add to a lengthening list of incidents where he has disrespected veterans.
Also, Trump has been busy planning his 16 day vacation to Mar-a-Lago and tweeting about Saturday Night Live:
A REAL scandal is the one sided coverage, hour by hour, of networks like NBC & Democrat spin machines like Saturday Night Live. It is all nothing less than unfair news coverage and Dem commercials. Should be tested in courts, can’t be legal? Only defame & belittle! Collusion?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 16, 2018