September 24, 2019

Chairman Takano Calls on Administration to Start Processing Claims for Eligible Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) joined Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in calling for the administration to start processing claims for eligible Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans. Video of the event can be found here. Below are remarks as prepared:

“In June, we celebrated a landmark achievement and passed the Blue Water Navy Act of 2019 to finally grant benefits to the tens of thousands of veterans who, for more than forty years, were denied benefits they earned while serving off the coasts of Vietnam.

“That bill was emblematic of what Congress SHOULD be - a bipartisan body that works with stakeholders across the spectrum to deliver for the American people.

“As we look forward to the Blue Water Navy Act going into effect in January, we understand VA may need assistance as they consider the challenge before them. We want to support their preparation efforts and ensure the implementation process goes smoothly.  We want to see VA succeed by developing a comprehensive plan that anticipates an influx of claims -- a plan that coordinates with DOD and assesses what resources might be necessary for processing claims. Our hope was to do this TOGETHER.

“But the little information VA has given us so far is not enough. They refused to participate in roundtables or share specific plans with Congress.

“We anticipate VA will need additional employees to process claims and employees in the field tell us that they may need hundreds of new employees to do the work. We’ve asked VA what they need but we’re still waiting on the answer.

“In the meantime, Vietnam era veterans are still sick and are facing delays for their needed benefits and care. After celebrating the signing of the Blue Water Navy Act, we learned that VA intended to stay all claims without exception until January 2020. While we recognize that VA needs time to plan for full implementation of the law in January, we must ask whether VA should exercise any discretion.  Is it really necessary to stay all of these claims? Or can we help some of these veterans today?  

“Too many of these veterans are suffering from debilitating illnesses related to herbicide exposure and cannot wait until January for assistance.  For benefits that were stopped in the past, relief could be as easy as reinstating a previously established service-connection. Delaying benefits for EVERY Blue Water Navy claimant is not the answer.

“VA-- let’s work together, so we can finally get these veterans the benefits they’ve earned, Congress appropriated, and President Trump signed into law. They’ve already waited far too long.”

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Jenni Geurink