Today, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) hosted a news conference call with an Ohio veteran as he continues fighting to ensure Blue Water Navy veterans, who were exposed to toxic Agent Orange chemicals during the Vietnam War, receive the benefits they've earned. In order to receive VA healthcare and disability benefits for conditions resulting from Agent Orange exposure, Blue Water Navy veterans must currently meet a higher burden of proof than veterans who served on land, or on inland waterways.
"This week's Veterans Day celebrations around Ohio are a reminder that nothing is more important than serving our veterans," said Brown. "As the Senate comes back into session this week, we need to get to work and show this country that we can work together -- and there's no better place to start than ensuring all the women and men who served this country get the care and benefits they've earned.
Brown is a cosponsor of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017, which would ensure these veterans are able to receive the healthcare benefits they need and have earned after their exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. In September, Brown met with VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and pressed him on the need to secure benefits for these veterans. Brown also raised the issue during a Veterans' Affairs Committee Hearing in September.
Brown was joined on today's call by Cleveland veteran Joe Benedict, who is a Blue Water Navy veteran, to discuss the importance of securing these benefits that Ohio veterans have earned.
"There is only one main point to this topic of Blue Water Navy. Why must any veteran be denied the possibility of medical and financial benefits because certain people are more concerned about the cost of these services," said Benedict.
Brown's office has held more than a dozen roundtables with veterans across Ohio in the past few months, with Ohio veterans raising the Blue Water Navy issue time and time again. Brown will continue pushing for benefits for Blue Water Navy veterans either through his legislation or administrative action by the VA.
A Blue Water Navy veteran is a veteran who served on a ship off the coast of Vietnam. Agent Orange is a toxic herbicide that was widely used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. Agent Orange is now widely recognized as causing cancer and other illnesses.
Currently, Vietnam veterans who served on land or in inland waterways automatically qualify for healthcare and disability benefits if they've been diagnosed with certain health conditions. However, Blue Water Navy veterans don't automatically qualify, even if they have been diagnosed with the very same illnesses as fellow veterans who served on land.
As a result, Blue Water Navy veterans are forced to meet a higher burden of proof and must navigate additional bureaucracy to get the benefits they've earned.
This wasn't always the case. Before 1997, the VA treated Blue Water Navy veterans the same as fellow veterans who served on land. However, in 1997, the VA changed its policy denying Blue Water Navy the same presumption of service connection status as those who served on land, or inland waterways.
In 2002, the Australian Department of Veterans Affairs commissioned a study which illustrated the process used to produce potable water on Royal Australian Navy ships could increase the concentration of Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, or TCDD a contaminant in Agent Orange. Unfortunately, VA has not accepted the science behind this study and continues to deny benefits to these veterans.