House Passes Legislation Including Gibson Bill on Vietnam Veterans
Bill Represents First Step in Effort to Help Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans
Oct 28, 2013 -
This evening, the House passed veterans legislation that included a bill written by Congressman Chris Gibson. This bill, H.R. 1494, the Blue Water Navy Ship Accountability Act, was introduced in April, and is part of the Congressman’s effort to ensure Vietnam veterans get the benefits they have earned and deserve. The Blue Water Navy Ship Accountability Act was incorporated into H.R. 2189, which passed the House 404-1 today.
“Without question, we must do everything we can to get our nation’s veterans the benefits they earned serving our nation. This responsibility is even more profound when the illnesses from which they are suffering are linked directly to their service,” said Congressman Gibson. “I have personally met with constituents who have had to fight with the Department of Veterans Affairs to try and receive coverage for some truly debilitating conditions and diseases. This bill is the first step in these claims being processed quickly, reducing what has become an absolutely unacceptable backlog at the VA.
A link to the Congressman’s floor speech on the bill can be found here: http://youtu.be/qLJlmIDZQsc. The floor speech mentions constituent and advocate Carol Olszanecki from Ellenville, who lost her husband John to Agent Orange related illnesses.
Under current law, Blue Water Navy Veterans who did not set foot in Vietnam or serve aboard ships that operated on the inland waterways of Vietnam between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975 have the burden of proof to demonstrate exposure to Agent Orange and the connection to their illnesses. These claims are decided on a case-by-case basis. The Bureau of Veterans Affairs maintains a list of U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships that operated within the vicinity of Vietnam; however, this list is imperfect and not comprehensive. Some offshore vessels docked to the shore of Vietnam, operated in Vietnam's close coastal waters and sent smaller vessels ashore.
In addition, Congressman Gibson’s bill, H.R. 543, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2013 would grant presumptive Agent Orange exposure status to US servicemembers who served in the territorial seas of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Presumptive coverage would enable eligible veterans to receive Veterans Affairs benefits if they suffer from any of the diseases the U.S. government has linked to Agent Orange.
Congressman Gibson’s provision would require a comprehensive search to determine which ships are eligible for coverage under current law, reducing the wait time when new claims are filed. This would help Veterans who are currently sick or, in some cases, have died and claims are being made by their surviving families. The information must be compiled within one year, and provided to the Veterans Affairs Secretary, as well as be available publicly.