Dioxin Developments

July 31, 2015 | Appeals | Complex Torts & Product Liability

Legislators Announce New Push for “Blue Water” Vietnam Vets

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and two members of the House of Representatives are pushing to pass legislation to make Navy veterans from the Vietnam War known as “Blue Water” vets who claim that they were exposed to Agent Orange eligible to receive disability and health care benefits for diseases they claim are linked to Agent Orange exposure.

The legislators are supporting the “Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015,” which provides that Blue Water veterans would be fully covered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) if they served within the “territorial seas,” or approximately 12 miles offshore, of Vietnam.

In a statement, the legislators said that the bill would make it easier for the VA to process Vietnam War veterans’ claims for service-connected conditions and alleviate a portion of the VA’s backlog by extending presumptive coverage of Agent Orange benefits to these veterans.

Senator Gillibrand introduced the act with Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) this past Spring.

In 1991, Congress passed a law requiring the VA to provide presumptive coverage to Vietnam veterans with illnesses that the Institute of Medicine, a division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, linked to Agent Orange exposure.  In 2002, the VA determined that it only would cover veterans who could prove that they had orders for “boots on the ground” during the Vietnam War, which, Senator Gillibrand said, excluded thousands of sailors.

New Jersey State Senate Seeks to Dedicate Environmental Contamination Settlements to Natural Resources

The New Jersey Senate has passed a bill that seeks to have voters decide whether to amend the state’s constitution to provide that all monies from settlements and awards collected by the state in connection with legal claims based on environmental contamination could be used only for environmental purposes.

In particular, the funds only could be used to repair damage to, restore, or permanently protect the state’s natural resources, to repay general obligation bonds approved by the voters prior to July 1, 2015 and authorized to be issued for environmental purposes, and for specified environmental purposes enumerated in Article VIII, Section II, paragraph 6 of the state constitution.

The constitutionally enumerated purposes include providing funding for open space, farmland, and historic preservation, water quality projects, the remediation of discharges of hazardous substances, and the upgrade, replacement, or closure of underground storage tanks.  However, the bill provides, none of the monies dedicated and appropriated pursuant to the proposed constitutional amendment could be expended for any direct or indirect administrative costs of the state or its departments, agencies, or authorities.

The Senate voted 27-12 to pass SCR-163. If the Assembly approves the bill, voters would be asked to vote on the proposed constitutional amendment in November.

State Senator Bob Smith, the sponsor of the resolution, has been quoted as saying, “This amendment would dedicate the revenues from these settlements to a wide variety of environmental purposes, but still protect the funds from use unrelated to restoring and protecting the environment.”

Learn more: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Vetoes Bill that Would Have Provided More Funds for Environmental Restoration and Remediation.

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