Justice for 'Blue Water Navy' veterans will have to wait until next year

Matt Saintsing
December 20, 2018 - 8:56 am

US Navy Photo by Civilian Public Affairs Officer Max Lonzanida/Released

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Veterans and advocates will most likely have to start from scratch next year to expand VA benefits to "Blue Water Navy" veterans after a last-minute effort failed in the Senate Wednesday. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) requested the Blue Water Navy Veterans Act of 2018 unanimous consent to approve the legislation, meaning the bill would be on its way to the White House if no senator objected. 

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) opposed, however, saying more science is needed. 

RELATED: "What next?": Blue Water Navy Veterans prepare to start over

"The brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country should undoubtedly get the medical care that they need in connection with their service," Lee said objecting to the motion on the Senate floor Wednesday. "But as members of this body, it's also our duty to ensure that it's done in a prudent and proper way, with all the relevant information available to us."

The House unanimously approved the bill in June, but it still needs to be passed by the Senate before being sent to the White House before being signed into law. With the current Congress about to sunset at the end of the month, it looks probable that the next Congress will have to re-introduce the bill in 2019, effectively starting over. 

Some 90,000 "Blue Water Navy" Vietnam veterans stand to benefit from the bill, which would bring sailors who served in ships off the coast of Vietnam in line with those who served on the ground. Currently, any Vietnam veteran who served ashore has a presumption of exposure to Agent Orange, meaning they don't have to prove they were exposed to the harmful chemical to receive VA benefits, including healthcare and disability compensation. 

RELATED: Why Sen. Enzi's delay of Blue Water Navy bill is bull$#%!

But the same is not true for sailors who didn't step foot on land. Nevertheless, many claim they were exposed to Agent Orange, and this bill would unlock crucial benefits many say they need and deserve. 

Blumenthal blasted Lee saying they would likely be back next session to take up the issue. 

"And the cost to our conscience, if not our budget, will rise in the meantime," he said. "These men are dying now, and they are being denied the benefits they deserve."

“We don’t need more sick veterans to prove sufficient evidence,” said VFW National Commander B.J. Lawrence. 

“Agent Orange made Vietnam veterans sick, and science agrees that there isn’t any reason to treat so-called Blue Water Navy veterans any different than their peers who served ashore or on the inland waterways of Vietnam."

Barring a hail-mary-like attempt to pass the bill before year's end, both the House and Senate will have to wait until the next Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3 to start the entire legislative process over. 

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