Download production-quality video of Senator Brown’s floor remarks HERE.
WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday evening, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) took to the Senate floor to fight to secure benefits for Blue Water Navy veterans, who were exposed to toxic Agent Orange chemicals during the Vietnam War. 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.
On the Senate floor, Brown joined his colleagues asking for unanimous consent on H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017. Brown is a cosponsor of the Senate companion legislation, 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. The unanimous consent request was met with Republican opposition; Brown vowed to continue fighting until these veterans are given the benefits they’ve earned.
“If you were exposed to poison while serving our country, you deserve the benefits you earned, period. No exceptions,” Brown said last night on the Senate floor.
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’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.
Brown’s floor remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:
Floor Statement for Senator Sherrod Brown – Blue Water Navy Live UC
December 10, 2018
We have an opportunity tonight to put partisanship aside, and come together to get something done that will make a real difference in the lives of thousands of veterans.
Too many veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange in the line of duty are being denied the benefits they earned serving our country.
Right now, because VA changed its policy, Blue Water Navy veterans must meet a higher burden of proof to receive VA healthcare and disability benefits than veterans who served on land, or on inland waterways.
They’re forced to navigate additional bureaucracy that can delay or even deny them benefits they’ve earned, simply because of where they served.
That makes no sense.
If you were exposed to poison while serving our country, you deserve the benefits you earned, period. No exceptions.
My office holds roundtables with veterans all over Ohio – we’ve held more than a dozen in the past several months alone – and I’ve heard Ohio veterans raise this issue time and time again.
Last month I spoke with one Cleveland veteran, Joe Benedict. He talked about how important these benefits are to veterans like him.
And last week, I met with Mike Kvintus, another Blue Water Navy Veteran from Cambridge, Ohio.
He is 71 years old, and he came all the way to Washington to talk to members of Congress about what a burden this senseless policy is for his fellow veterans, who have already sacrificed so much for this country.
He urged us all to put politics aside, and get this done.
I want to thank Senator Tester, Senator Gillibrand, and all my colleagues in both parties who are working to get this fixed.
Last year, we introduced the bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017, which would guarantee that all Vietnam veterans exposed to toxic Agent Orange chemicals have equal access to the care and benefits they earned.
And I’ve raised the issue with VA Secretary Wilkie at a meeting in September and at a Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing, pressing him to expand benefits to all Vietnam veterans.
Now we have a chance to fix this once and for all, tonight.
Mr. Kvintus and Mr. Benedict and all of the veterans who put themselves in harm’s way to serve our country shouldn’t have to wait another minute.
We need to show the American people we can work together, Republicans and Democrats, and we should start by putting partisanship aside and finally getting this fixed for the veterans we serve.