Peters supports expanding coverage for veterans harmed by agent orange

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S Senator Gary Peters (MI), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, announced today he is cosponsoring the bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act to help ensure that Vietnam veterans who served aboard deep-water naval vessels, known as “Blue Water” veterans, are eligible for the disability and health care benefits for illnesses linked to exposure to Agent Orange. Currently, care directly linked to Agent Orange exposure is only available to veterans who served on the ground in Vietnam or aboard a vessel in an inland waterway. Michigan is home to over 650,000 veterans, including more veterans from the Vietnam era than any other generation.

“Our brave men and women in uniform make tremendous sacrifices in service to our country, and it is unconscionable that so many of our U.S. Navy Vietnam veterans are not able to access the benefits they earned through their service,” said Senator Peters, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I’m proud to cosponsor this bipartisan, commonsense legislation that will help keep our promise to America’s veterans by ensuring every servicemember can access the care and resources they need.”

“America’s servicemembers have sacrificed so much to defend our country, and it is extremely troubling that as many as 90,000 American heroes can’t get the treatment they need after being exposed to substances like Agent Orange during their service,” said Phil Smith, State Council of Michigan Vietnam Veterans of America. “We thank Senator Peters and all the other members for supporting this bill, which will help ensure we are keeping our promises to take care of our Vietnam Veterans and their families.”

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military used approximately 20 million gallons of Agent Orange to remove jungle foliage in Vietnam. A law passed by Congress in 1991 required the VA to provide coverage to veterans with Agent Orange related illnesses. In 2002, the VA severely restricted disability benefits and coverage to only those veterans who could prove they served on the ground in Vietnam, effectively excluding coverage for veterans exposed to Agent Orange while serving aboard Navy vessels in territorial waters. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would require the VA to expand benefits and coverage to the estimated 90,000 Blue Water veterans who came into contact with Agent Orange while serving offshore. The bill would also streamline the process to file for benefits and help reduce the VA claims backlog.

In recent years, reports from the Institute of Medicine have found evidence linking Agent Orange exposure to serious heart problems and Parkinson’s disease, and have determined plausible ways Blue Water veterans were exposed to Agent Orange by bathing in or distilling water for drinking just offshore.”

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.

As a former Lt. Commander in the Navy Reserve, Peters has been a strong voice in Congress for Michigan’s veterans and servicemembers. A provision of his bipartisan Fairness for Veterans Act was signed into law last year. This legislation helps veterans erroneously given a less than honorable, or “bad paper,” discharge due to behavior resulting from mental trauma or PTSD. A bad paper discharge can prevent some veterans with PTSD from accessing their benefits, including VA home loans and post-9/11 GI Bill educational opportunities. Peters also cosponsored the No Veterans Crisis Line Call Should Go Unanswered Act, which was signed into law last year, to ensure every call, text message or email from a veteran in crisis to the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line is answered quickly by a live person.

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