A final deal to provide Department of Veterans Affairs benefits to thousands of veterans who served off the coast during the Vietnam War failed in the Senate on Monday night with only days remaining in the 115th Congress.
The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would extend eligibility for disability compensation and health care to “Blue Water” Navy veterans – servicemembers who were aboard aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers and other ships, some of whom have fought for years to prove they were exposed to Agent Orange. The dioxin-laden herbicide has been found to cause respiratory cancers, Parkinson’s disease and heart disease, as well as other conditions.
The House voted 382-0 in favor of the legislation in June. Since then, it’s been stuck in the Senate. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie voiced his opposition to the bill in September, citing cost concerns and insufficient scientific evidence. He urged lawmakers to hold off until a new study is released in 2019.
On Monday night, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., went to the Senate floor and asked for unanimous consent to pass the bill. Unanimous consent expedites approval but can be stopped if one senator objects.
Citing cost concerns, Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, objected.
“On this bill, many of us have been made aware of the potential cost growth and the budgetary and operational pressures that would happen at the VA,” he said. “They’re having a lot of problems, anyway.”
Enzi said he wanted more details about how many veterans would be made eligible for benefits under the legislation and how much it would cost.