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Hirono Calls for Passage of Bill to Assist Vietnam Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange

WASHINGTON, D.C.- In a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing today, Senator Mazie K. Hirono called for the passage of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, legislation to ensure that thousands of Navy veterans, known as “Blue Water” veterans, are able to receive the disability compensation and health care they need after exposure to Agent Orange while serving on ships off the Vietnamese coast during the Vietnam War.Under current law, veterans who served in Vietnam on land or in its “Brown Water” inland waterways are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange.

Senator Hirono is a cosponsor of S. 422, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, and shared stories of Hawaii veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, but were unable to access care for health conditions they say were caused by the exposure.

During her remarks in Committee, Senator Hirono highlighted the stories of two Hawaii veterans Richard and Gordon, who were exposed to Agent Orange during their service.

From Senator Hirono’s remarks:

“Richard served on the USS Hancock in the Gulf of Tonkin from 1972 to 1975. Richard was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus and is now on kidney dialysis from his exposure to Agent Orange while serving on his ship off the coast of Vietnam.  Gordon served on the fleet oiler USS Chipola from 1967 to 1969 and was diagnosed with soft tissue carcinoma also due to Agent Orange exposure while serving off the coast of Vietnam.

“These are just some of the thousands of Vietnam Veterans who have applied for VA health benefits but were denied because they happened to serve our country at sea rather than on land. This wrong must be corrected.”

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 health effects on many veterans who served in Vietnam. In 1991, Congress passed a law requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs (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 decided that it would only cover Veterans who could prove that they had orders for “boots on the ground” during the Vietnam War. This exclusion prevents thousands of sailors from receiving benefits even though they had significant Agent Orange exposure from drinking and bathing in contaminated water just offshore.