House bill expands benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans

On June 25, the House of Representatives voted 382-0 to expand benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans from the Vietnam War, with H.R. 299, The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act. Veterans who served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975 are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange if diagnosed with a medical condition associated with the herbicide, according to the Agent Orange Act of 1991. However, this act applied only to veterans who served on land and in Vietnam’s inland waterways, excluding those who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam known as “Blue Water” Navy veterans. H.R. 299 will extend these benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans.

The American Legion in 2016 passed Resolution No. 246, supporting “legislation to amend title 38, United States Code, to presume exposure to Agent Orange for any military personnel who served during the Vietnam War on any vessel that came within 12 nautical miles of the coastlines of Vietnam.”

If the Senate approves the bill – and the president signs it – this will mark the end of a decades-long effort for these veterans to receive recognition of their exposure to Agent Orange in the course of their military service.

Senate approves fiscal year 2019 MilCon/VA funding measure

On June 25, the U.S. Senate approved H.R. 5895, a mini-omnibus measure containing three FY 2019 funding bills: the Energy Department-Water Development measure, the Legislative Branch spending bill, and the Military Construction/Department of Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies legislation. VA would receive $85.3 billion in discretionary funding for FY 2019. A few VA accounts to make note of include:

  • VA medical services – $78.3 billion for homeless veterans treatment, services, housing and job training; the VA Caregivers program; opioid abuse prevention; rural health initiatives; and suicide prevention activities.
  • Advance appropriations for veterans programs, FY 2020 – $196.8 billion.
  • National Cemetery Administration –$316 million.
  • Information Technology – $4.1 billion.
  • Disability claims processing – $2.9 billion.
  • Construction – Major construction funds ($1.13 billion) will be used for correcting critical seismic deficiencies, new hospital and clinic construction, and repairing crumbling infrastructure. Minor construction is $606 million.
  • Construction grants – The state veterans homes account received $150 million, and the state cemetery programs received $45 million. The American Legion continues to urge Congress to make substantial increases in both grant accounts to allow states to construct state cemeteries and state veterans homes.

The measure now goes to a conference committee to reconcile differences in the House and Senate-passed versions, before it can be signed by the president.