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Ranking Member Roe Urges Passage of Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Legislation

Delivered opening remarks at the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Legislative Hearing

Today, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs held a legislative hearing on H.R. 299, The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, and pending legislation. During the hearing, Full Committee Ranking Member Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.) urged the need to pass legislation to ensure that Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans receive the benefits they have earned.

Below are Roe's opening remarks:

Opening Remarks as Prepared for Delivery:

I want to thank Chair Luria and Ranking Member Bost for their leadership on today’s legislative hearing.

It’s no surprise that one of my top priorities as Ranking Member of this Committee is continuing our work from the 115th Congress to ensure that our Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans receive the benefits they have earned.

Last Congress, by a vote of 382-0, the House passed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018.

Unfortunately, despite the efforts of Senate Veterans Affairs' Committee Chairman Isakson and Ranking Member Tester, the Senate never passed the legislation.

This is why one of my first actions at the start of the 116th Congress was to introduce H.R. 203, which mirrors last year’s Blue Water Navy bill.

Although H.R. 203 is not on today’s agenda, I appreciate Chairman Takano’s efforts to maintain the momentum this Committee made last Congress to enact legislation that would extend benefits and healthcare to our Blue Water Navy veterans.

I’m happy to partner with Chairman Takano on H.R. 299 and appreciate his bipartisanship to make sure that this time we get the bill across the finish line and onto President Trump’s desk.

I also want to thank all of our VSO partners for their support and help to craft a bill that finally fulfills our nation’s promise to these veterans.

Recently, Blue Water Navy veterans won big when the Federal Circuit ruled in the case of Procopio v. Wilkie that VA should accept service in the waters surrounding the Republic of Vietnam for the Agent Orange presumption, just as VA does for boots on the ground service.

I was further encouraged by Secretary Wilkie’s recommendation that the Solicitor General not appeal the court’s decision.

However, at this time, it is unclear how the Department plans to interpret the Federal Court’s holding in Procopio.

This is why I believe that passing H.R. 299 is necessary to ensure that those veterans who were potentially exposed to Agent Orange in the waters offshore of the Republic of Vietnam, are guaranteed entitlement to the presumption.

Moreover, the package in H.R. 299 not only addresses the plight of Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans but also includes provisions that would extend the presumption to veterans who served in or near the Korean DMZ beginning on September 1, 1967; provide benefits to certain children of Thailand veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange; adress the concerns of Thailand and Gulf War veterans about their potential in-service toxic exposures; and, make improvements to VA’s home loan program.

I support the draft update to H.R. 299 and hope it passes the House without delay.

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