Elaine Luria urges timeliness, accuracy as VA implements Blue Water Navy veteran legislation

Elaine LuriaTwo months before a comprehensive new law for Vietnam veterans goes into effect, House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs (DAMA) Chair Elaine Luria (VA-02) pressed top VA officials on implementation efforts, identifying gaps that need to be filled.

With Chair Luria’s support, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act became law earlier this year, reversing decades of neglect for our Vietnam-era veterans. The new law, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, allows veterans who served in the offshore waters of Vietnam to receive VA benefits based on herbicide (Agent Orange) exposure. Those benefits were already available to those who served on land within Vietnam. A Navy veteran herself, Chair Luria has spoken out numerous times in Congress on behalf of this overlooked group of American heroes.

“Today was VA’s opportunity to tell Congress exactly what they need to accurately implement this critical law in a timely manner,” Chair Luria said. “While VA has done a lot of valuable work, I come out of this hearing with too many unanswered questions. Time is running out for these Vietnam veterans, and they’ve already waited far too long.”

At Wednesday’s DAMA hearing, Chair Luria heard testimony from VA officials, as well as veterans service organizations. The focus of the hearing centered on lingering issues that must be fixed before the New Year.

Among them:

  • Eligibility: In its mapping tool to determine eligibility for benefits, VA has not developed a way to include veterans who served on submarines. Chair Luria asked what plans VA officials have to collect information about the location of submarines during the Vietnam War and develop the claims of those veterans.
  • Paperwork: Laws that mandated new forms place burdens on veterans to know what conditions they may have claimed decades ago. Chair Luria asked what plans are in place to accept older forms or create new forms that are less confusing for veterans.
  • Workforce: Given the number of claims expected to be submitted to VA, Chair Luria pressed on whether enough full-time employees are in place to process a high volume of forms.

At one point during today’s hearing, Willie Clark, Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations at the Veterans Benefits Administration, said: “We’ll be ready on [January] 1st.”

“VA says they’re confident, but for the sake of our Blue Water veterans who have waited decades for this care and these benefits, VA must get it right,” Chair Luria said. “We look forward to a successful implementation in January and expect regular, timely updates on progress going forward.”

Video of the hearing can be seen here.

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