WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) yesterday met with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie to discuss the urgent need to pass legislation to aid Blue Water Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange to receive care and benefits. Blue Water Navy veterans served aboard ships off the shore of Vietnam during the Vietnam War, where they were exposed to chemicals. In order to receive VA healthcare and disability benefits for conditions resulting from that exposure, currently Blue Water Navy veterans must meet a higher burden of proof than veterans who served on land, or on inland waterways.
Senator Brown’s office has been conducting veteran roundtables across the state this summer and has consistently heard from Blue Water Navy veterans regarding their eligibility for benefits. Brown is also a cosponsor of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017, introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), which would ensure these veterans are able to receive the health care benefits they need and deserve after their exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
“All Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange deserve health care and benefits,” said Brown. “The Department of Veterans Affairs needs to expand these benefits to all Vietnam veterans, whether they served on the ground or at sea. I made that clear to Secretary Wilkie during our meeting.”
During their meeting, Brown also pressed Wilkie to ensure all patient safety guidelines are being followed across the VA, after an independent Inspector General investigation found that secured windows could have prevented the death of a patient at the Chillicothe Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Chillicothe VA has already made changes to adhere to the recommendations in the report, but Brown wants to ensure proper safety protocol is being followed throughout the entire VA.
“The VA must do everything it can to protect patients and save lives. Period,” Brown said.
Brown has long fought to secure benefits for veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and other toxic chemicals. During Wilkie’s confirmation hearing, Brown secured a commitment from then-nominee Wilkie to work with his office regarding Agent Orange presumptive conditions, Blue Water Navy veterans’ eligibility for benefits, and establishing a process to diagnose constrictive bronchiolitis, a condition cause by burn pit exposure at VA.
Following the death of a patient at the Chillicothe Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Brown joined Sen. John Tester (D-MT) in calling on Secretary Wilkie to ensure that the report’s recommendations are applied throughout VA’s health care system to protect patients. The VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted the inspection at Brown and Tester’s request. In the letter, Brown requests that Sec. Wilkie work with all VA facilities to ensure adherence to the Veterans Health Administration Center for Engineering and Occupational Safety and Health guidelines for windows in patient care areas. Brown also asked to be notified as recommendations in the healthcare inspection are completed.