The House of Representatives voted unanimously Tuesday evening to pass HR 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019. The bill would provide benefits to “Blue Water” Navy veterans who were exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange while on ship despite never setting foot on the ground.
At 410-0, it was an even larger margin of victory than last year’s unanimous vote on a identical bill, which passed 382-0. That bill ultimately failed to pass despite overwhelming support in the Senate because two Senators — Lee (Utah) and Enzi (Wyo.) — blocked it from getting out of committee.
The Senate version of the bill — S 1195 — was introduced on April 11 and awaits action by the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
“Passage of our bill today reinforces the January ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals, and is a major milestone towards codifying once and for all the benefits we owe to Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans,” Rep. Joe Courtney (Conn.) said in a statement Tuesday evening. “The House has passed this bill once before, in the previous 115th Congress. The Senate’s failure to concurrently pass the bill at that time was one of the most disappointing aspects of the last session of Congress. Today, I’m encouraged by the overwhelming bipartisan support our bill received upon passage here in the House of Representatives, and I again call on the Senate to follow our lead, and to pass this bill without delay so that our Blue Water Navy veterans can finally be assured the care and recognition they deserve.”
AUSN is concerned that the current language of the bill unnecessarily limits its effects to sailors who were within 12 miles from shore, rather than 12 miles from the baseline as defined by the Procopio court decision earlier this year, which in many cases is beyond the shore and would include potentially thousands more veterans. However, we support any bill that provides benefits to our Blue Water Navy veterans, and we are optimistic that the Senate version of the bill will correct this issue.