Time may be running out to pass a bill that would provide extended health coverage for "blue water" sailors exposed to Agent Orange. According to author Travis Tritten of Stars and Stripes, the proposal has been stalling for a year despite having an impressive 320 sponsors.
Currently, many soldiers who were likely exposed to Agent Orange don't have access to health benefits.
"If you served just offshore, you don't have presumed coverage," said Rep. Chris Gibson, a former Army colonel who also sponsored the House bill. "Members of Congress have to fight case by case … It should not have to be that way, they should get presumed coverage."
A major obstacle in the bill's path to approval is skeptics who are concerned about benefit costs and question the science behind it. While sailors were undoubtedly working in or near areas Agent Orange was used, these critics doubt whether the veterans were directly exposed. Proponents argue their ships sucked up Agent Orange and crew members unknowingly used it. These veterans, many of whom now have debilitating conditions, point to their medical records as proof.
Tritten points out that as spring fades into the summer and fall, groups in support of the bill may have trouble getting it passed. They'll be up against lawmakers' summer recess and the fall general election, which will command a significant amount of attention.
"We've never been in a stronger position to get it passed," Gibson said. Yet as time inches forward, that position could weaken. John Wells, the executive director of Military Veterans Advocacy, noted that "we are trying our best [to get the bill passed]."