By Cmdr. Rene Campos, USN (Ret)

Victory seemed in sight earlier this year when the House unanimously approved a bill that would give health benefits and disability pay to thousands of veterans exposed to Agent Orange. But now, with the measure stalled in the Senate, there are mere days left to save this important legislation. 

To every person reading this article: Please immediately call your senators' offices via the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121, or write to them by clicking here, or do both, urging your senators to take action and pass H.R. 299.

[Related: Blue Water Navy Veterans Face Setback From the VA]

This bill expands presumptive exposure of Agent Orange to Blue Water Navy veterans who served in the waters around Vietnam, Korea and Thailand.  An estimated 90,000 blue-water Navy vets are estimated to be living today, and they deserve health care and benefits.

The Senate last week put a hold on the bill, preventing H.R. 299 from moving to the floor for a vote.

The decision came after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released new cost estimates for the bill.

But this is not the first challenge the bill has faced. 

Two months ago, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie sent a letter to the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee attempting to scuttle the bill, prompting a Military Coalition message to the committee and backlash from dozens of military and veterans groups.

Wilkie requested that senators put a hold on the legislation until an ongoing VA study could compare the health of Vietnam War veterans with those of a similar age who did not deploy. That report is set to be published in late 2019.

In a recent interview with Military Officer about Blue Water Navy benefits, Wilkie said he is "in constant contact with the leadership in Congress and we're working toward a solution." 

The funding mechanism for the legislation has also generated some concern. The legislation would require an increase to VA home loan funding fees to be increased to pay for the increased cost of providing disability compensation and health care to Blue Water Navy veterans.

[Related: VSOs Push Back Against Blue Water Navy Comments]

This fee increase was arrived at only after years of negotiation and discussion between veteran service organizations and Congress. 

As for the “science debate,” MOAA has reasoned that this is really a matter of poor record keeping. Today it's impossible to confirm with certainty whether a service member was exposed to Agent Orange. These veterans suffering today should not be punished for the failures of the system decades ago. The need for care is very real today. 

Please act now. Click here and send a message to your elected leaders.