Source: United States House of Representatives – Congressman Joe Courtney (2nd District of Connecticut)
VERNON, CT – Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) released the following statement today after the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that they have no plans to challenge a November 5th Federal District Court ruling that orders the VA to make retroactive payments to Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans and their survivors. The ruling comes following the passage and signing into law of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (H.R. 299) in 2019, which Rep. Courtney co-introduced and that codified VA eligibility for many veterans exposed to Agent Orange to finally receive the benefits they deserved. The new ruling will ensure that the VA not only grants veterans filing new Agent Orange-related claims the benefits they have earned, as outlined in H.R. 299, but that they also identify and award benefits and compensation to veterans and their estates who could have potentially filed claims in years past.
“This is a real victory for so many of our Vietnam veterans and their families who have fought tooth and nail for years to simply be granted the benefits they rightfully earned and deserve,” said Congressman Courtney. “Passage of our bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act last year finally opened the door, and this new ruling will ensure that thousands more veterans and their families get the care they need and the compensation they deserve after years of being wrongfully denied. It’s also encouraging to hear the VBA express that they intend to comply immediately with this new court decision—VBA Chief Paul Lawrence has already stated that they’re prepared to begin identifying eligible veterans and their families who could have been eligible for claims in the past.
“There’s more work ahead to ensure that all veterans who encountered Agent Orange during their service get the compensation that our nation owes to them and their families. We were able to move the ball forward for them on a bipartisan basis this year, and much of that is thanks to Gerry Wright, a Vietnam Veteran from Andover who is a tireless, nationwide advocate for these servicemembers, and who I’ve been proud to call my friend for years. I’m looking forward to continuing to advance these efforts alongside Gerry, our VSOs, and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle as we move ahead.
“The NVSLP has already estimated that this new decision could lead to benefits and payments for up to 15,000 vets and their families,” Courtney continued, “Eastern Connecticut is home to so many of our Vietnam vets, and my team is ready to assist any veteran or family member interested in learning more about these benefits. My team hasn’t stopped working during COVID-19, and we’re ready to help.”
In a November 5th ruling, Federal District Judge William Alsup ordered the VA to begin making retroactive payments to Vietnam veterans and their families who were wrongfully denied benefits for exposure to Agent Orange. The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVSLP) has estimated that the new ruling could impact between 2,000 and 15,000 veterans and their families, and that it could lead to each of them potentially receiving an average of $28,000 in retroactive disability and death benefits. Click here to read more from Military.com.
Rep. Courtney has worked for years to provide Vietnam Veterans who came into contact with Agent Orange the health care benefits they deserve. He helped introduce the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (H.R. 299) to the 116th Congress in January 2019, and he has been a lead co-sponsor of the bill every session since the 112th Congress.
In March 2019, H.R. 299 was passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 410-0.
Courtney applauded the Senate for taking up the House’s version of the bill in June 2019. The Senate passed the House’s bill that same month, and H.R. 299 was signed into law on June 25th, 2019.
As of October 31st, 2020, the VA has provided over 25,900 families with more than $696 million in health care benefits for service-connected injuries related to Agent Orange. Click here to read more.