A last-ditch effort to pass H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, failed in the Senate Dec. 10.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., asked her Senate colleagues for unanimous consent to pass the legislation. Unanimous consent can precipitate the passage of a bill, but it can also be stopped if just one senator objects. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., objected due to concerns over cost, halting the passage of the bill.
On Dec. 12, The American Legion joined with Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, AMVETs, Military Officers Association of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Vietnam Veterans of America in asking President Donald Trump to use his “personal leadership to help Congress pass critical legislation to correct a long overdue injustice harming tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans.” In a signed letter, The American Legion and the six other veterans service organizations said “We understand there is concern about the cost to provide benefits and health care to Blue Water Navy veterans suffering from cancers and other illnesses linked to Agent Orange. But when our nation asks its brave men and women to serve in harm’s way, America assumes a sacred obligation to care and compensate for the injuries and illnesses they suffer during that service.”
Veterans who served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975 are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange if diagnosed with a medical condition associated with the herbicide, according to the Agent Orange Act of 1991. However, this act applied only to veterans who served on land and in Vietnam’s inland waterways, excluding those who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam known as “Blue Water” Navy veterans. H.R. 299 would extend these benefits to the Blue Water Navy veterans. The bill will have to be reintroduced from the beginning if the Senate fails to pass the legislation before the end of the 115th Congress.