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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Kirsten Gillibrand
WASHINGTON, DC — New regulations released by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), expands disability benefits to Air Force Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange through regular contact with C-123 aircraft that had been used in Vietnam.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, said last week that she was pleased with the decision but that it didn't go far enough. New York's junior senator has been pushing for a similar expansion of VA benefits for Navy veterans, denied due to a technicality.

Gillibrand's statement follows in its entirety:
“I am pleased the VA has finally ended the wait and will now provide disability benefits for the Air Force veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange. However, there are still hundreds of thousands of Blue Water Navy Veterans who are being denied benefits they need and deserve because of a technicality in the law. Congress owes it to the Blue Water Navy Veterans who bravely served our country and have fallen victim to Agent Orange-related diseases to finish the job by passing legislation that would finally solve this problem and provide access to the benefits they deserve.”

On March 9, 2015, Senator Gillibrand and Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) introduced the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015, which would clarify existing law so that Blue Water veterans would be fully covered by the VA if they served within the “territorial seas,” or approximately 12 miles offshore of Vietnam. The bill would make it easier for VA to process Vietnam War veterans’ claims for service-connected conditions and alleviate a portion of the VA’s backlog by extending presumptive coverage of Agent Orange benefits to these veterans

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed approximately 20 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam to remove jungle foliage. This toxic chemical had devastating effects for millions serving in Vietnam. In 1991, Congress passed a law requiring the VA to provide presumptive coverage to Vietnam veterans with illnesses that the Institute of Medicine has directly linked to Agent Orange exposure.  However, in 2002 the VA determined that it would only cover Veterans who could prove that they had orders for “boots on the ground” during the Vietnam War. This exclusion affects thousands of sailors who may have still received significant Agent Orange exposure from receiving VA benefits.

A May 2011 report by the Institute of Medicine established several “plausible routes” for Agent Orange exposure through the water distillation process aboard Navy ships and through the air. In 2010, a study by the Institute of Medicine cited exposure to Agent Orange resulted in an increased chance of developing serious heart problems and Parkinson’s disease. A 1990 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed Vietnam veterans had a rate of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma 50 percent higher than the general population. Agent Orange is linked to a range of other diseases, including several blood and respiratory cancers, type II diabetes, prostate cancer and more.

In 2005, the VA’s former Director of Environmental Agents Service Dr. Mark Brown publicly acknowledged that there was no scientific basis for the exclusion of Blue Water Vietnam veterans, but the VA has continued to refuse these veterans presumptive benefits Congress initially intended. In his article in the Journal of Law and Policy, Dr. Brown wrote, “Science does not back up the VA’s policy on the Navy.”

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