Bill to help ‘Blue Water’ veterans passes House

Rep. Elise Stefanik (Photo provided)

Legislation to streamline the process for obtaining benefits for U.S. Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange unanimously passed the House of Representatives last week.

The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would change current policy of the Veterans Administration, which in 2002 limited the scope of the benefit to veterans who could provide proof of “boots on the ground” in Vietnam and direct exposure to the herbicide.

Those who served off the coast or in bays have been required to file individual claims to restore their benefits. Those were decided on a case-by-case basis, according to a news release from U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik’s office.

More than 20 million gallons of the herbicide were sprayed to remove jungle foliage during the Vietnam conflict. Exposure to the chemical has resulted in health issues such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, various cancers, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease.

The legislation would restore a presumption of exposure for veterans who served in the territorial seas of Vietnam, as well as for veterans who served in or near the Korean Demilitarized Zone from Sept. 1, 1967 through Aug. 31, 1971. Also it authorizes the VA to provide health care, vocational training and money to veterans’ children born with spina bifida if the veterans served in Thailand from Jan. 9, 1962 through May 7, 1975 and were exposed to the chemical, according to a news release.

The bill, which passed the House on May 14, also would require the VA within 180 days of enactment to report on the findings of a follow-up study on various symptoms affecting Gulf War veterans.

“Blue Water Navy veterans should not be forced to sift through the frustrating bureaucracy at the VA just to get the health benefits they need and deserve due to their courageous service to our nation,” said Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, in a news release. Stefanik has introduced another piece of legislation to help Vietnam veterans. The Vietnam Era Veterans Hepatitis C Testing Enhancement Act would provide funding for a pilot project to increase the number of veterans tested for the disease. The current efforts focus mostly on 2 million veterans enrolled in VA care. Only 78 percent of them are tested.

As many as 7 million are considered at high risk for being infected by the hepatitis C virus. Vietnam era veterans are at a risk of infection up to 10 times higher than the general population, according to a news release.

Cyber workforce

Stefanik has sponsored legislation that would award grants to businesses and organizations to help them create and expand registered apprenticeship programs in cybersecurity. The Cyber Ready Workforce Act would establish the program to help fund support services, which could include career-counseling, mentorship, and assistance with transportation, housing and child care costs, according to a news release.

There is a companion bill in the Senate.

“This bipartisan legislation will equip our workforce with the tools needed to improve cybersecurity capabilities in businesses and organizations across the country. This bill is critical for not only our workforce and economy, but for our national security as well,” she said in a news release.

Stefanik praises tariff deal

Stefanik praised the deal reached in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to lift tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

“Removing these tariffs on steel and aluminum is a major step in the right direction to ratifying the USMCA and strengthening the relationship with Canada, our nation’s closest economic partner,” Stefanik said in a news release. “This is also great news for my district, which is home to the oldest aluminum smelter in the entire country. I applaud President Trump for reaching this deal, which will have meaningful impacts for Canadian firms’ operation in my district and for the North Country economy as a whole.”

Cobb criticizes health care vote

Democratic congressional candidate Tedra Cobb criticized Stefanik’s vote on a health care bill.

House Resolution 987 would bolster sections of the Affordable Care Act, including changing laws and regulations to expand and accelerate the marketing of generic versions of brand-name drugs; restoring the original three-month limit on health insurance plans; spending $100 million annually over 10 years to fund advertising campaigns and Navigator programs to increase enrollment in the Affordable Care Act; and providing $200 million to establish insurance exchanges in states where residents use the federal exchange, according to Thomas Voting Reports.

Cobb accused Stefanik of turning her back on families dealing with the opioid crisis by voting against funding for navigators to help people enroll in coverage.

“It is inexcusable that Elise Stefanik voted against this bill,” Cobb said in a news release. “NY-21 has some of the highest opioid deaths per capita in the state; our families are desperate for help. Providing healthcare navigators the resources necessary to help families understand their coverage is the least we can do.”

Stefanik put the following statement on her Facebook page about why she voted against the legislation, which passed the House 234-183.

“While I wholeheartedly support improving access to low-cost medications, there are provisions in this bill that would limit North Country families’ choice and access to the care and medication they need,” she wrote.

Stec criticizes farm labor bill Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, joined his colleagues last week in sending a letter to the Assembly majority, asking Democrats to reconsider their support of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Act.

Stec opposes the bill, which would give farmers the right to join a union; require a full day off each week; require overtime pay for working beyond 8 hours a day; and add other workplace protections.

“This is a lot to ask our farmers who already juggle so many hardships that are out of their control,” Stec said in a news release. “We could potentially see hundreds of local family farms close their doors as a result of this. The agriculture industry makes up a large portion of New York’s economy, and this could have far reaching effects throughout the state. I hope the majority heeds our warnings and reconsiders their stance on the issue.”