Legislation advocated by Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, to help Vietnam veterans sickened by exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange has won overwhelming passage in the House of Representatives.
The legislation framed by the decorated combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan — the Blue Water Navy Ship Accountability Act — ended up being tucked into another resolution which passed the House 404 to 1 on Monday.
Gibson’s proposal is aimed at tackling the current coverage gap for so-called Blue Water Navy veterans who did not set foot in Vietnam, but instead served on ships that operated on inland waterways of Vietnam between January 1962 and May 1975. These veterans now have the burden of proof to show that their exposure to Agent Orange resulted in their illnesses.
The Gibson-backed provision would require the military to conduct a search to determine which ships are eligible for coverage, thus reducing the wait time when new claims are brought by the veterans. The goal, according to Gibson’s office, is to help veterans who are currently sick, or, in some cases, have died, with claims being brought on their behalf by their survivors.
“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,” Gibson said in a statement. “This bill is the first step in these claims being processed quickly, reducing what has become an absolutely unacceptable backlog at the VA (Veterans Administration).”
Oneonta Vets Club president Tony Moore of Davenport, who is still recovering after exposure to Agent Orange while he served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, said he was delighted the legislation sailed through the House.
“This is long overdue,” Moore said. “They used that stuff all over the place. These people should be covered.”
Michael Boyson, the commander of the American Legion at the Cooperstown Veterans Club, said he hopes the U.S. Senate quickly passes companion legislation so the Blue Water Navy veterans harmed by Agent Orange can get treatment.
“If we didn’t have something like this legislation, they wouldn’t get that coverage,” Boyson said. “This is intended to protect our people who were there.”
Diseases the government has associated with Agent Orange exposure include leukemia, Hodgkin’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, prostate cancer, lung cancer, multiple myeloma and Diabetes Mellitus Type 2.
Gibson is also promoting a second bill, , H.R. 543, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2013, that, if approved, would grant presumptive Agent Orange exposure status to veterans who served in the territorial seas of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Presumptive coverage would allow eligible veterans to get benefits if they suffer from diseases the government has linked to Agent Orange.